In Conversation with Miss Me, the Art Vandal Who Refuses to Waste Her Voice

Miss Me is a loud laugher. She’s opinionated and not afraid of being controversial. She dabbles in pussies and breasts and mystical otherworldly unicorn sharks and doesn’t mind using the female anatomy as a tool and as a canvas to promote feminism and female power. She believes in the “Pussylluminati” and by the end of any interaction with her, you probably will too.

The Switzerland-born, France-raised artist who’s been making Montreal, Canada her home for some time now, has been wheat-pasting defiantly strong, regal, and beautifully sensual larges-scale images of women on public streets for close to a decade. From Havana to Miami, Paris to Dakar, Buenos Aires to Denver, Colorado, her striking images, always installed in the middle of the night, can be found almost everywhere.

Unlike most public images of women, hers don’t aim to appeal to the male gaze. There is nothing sexually suggestive or coquettish about the women in her art. Strong, powerful, standing tall, they evoke self-assurance and self-acceptance. They challenge you to see the female form before it was hijacked by a patriarchal view of the world. In other words, men, this isn’t about you.

It’s no wonder, then, that her unapologetic images are routinely flagged and consistently banned by social media accounts, despite the lack of pornography or debasement. Women in full possession of their bodies and sexuality – it would appear – are considered more dangerous and offensive than the daily degradation and hyper-sexualization of women. She rightfully assesses that, “to be born with a woman’s body is to bear the unsolicited burden of humanity’s unresolved attitudes towards sex.”

After leaving a successful career in advertising as a marketing art director to devote herself full-time to her art, the balaclava-wearing artist has managed to carve out a path that reflects both her social and feminist beliefs, while continuing to create powerful visual art that loses none of its beauty because of its convictions. It’s a happy medium that seems to suit Miss Me well and one she effortlessly recognizes on her website, where you can find her work separated under the “Vandalism” and “Legal Work” banners.

Here, she takes some time from her busy schedule to speak to Live FAST about her art, feminism, and what’s next for the #MeToo movement. The following interview has been condensed for editorial purposes.

Q&A

LF: Did you leave the advertising industry because you wanted to be a loud counterpoint to the objectification of women in advertising?

MM: I felt that what I was doing was not truly who I was. I was executing orders for clients and really feeding into a system that I don’t necessarily believe in at all and I felt like I was wasting my voice. In this age we’re living in, I didn’t want to waste my voice. I couldn’t buy into that bullshit anymore. I needed to use my skills and my art for something that spoke to me. Do I feel that I’m accomplishing that? As much as I can. I wish I could do more. I wish I could scream louder. But I’m happy to be at least as close as I can to my emotions and my feelings and my values.

I’m not trying to preach. I don’t have any of the answers. I’m just sharing what I feel needs to be shared.

LF: In the past few years, you’ve really come into your own. You’ve been featured in galleries, had shows, your prints are popular, you’ve become much more commercially viable for lack of a better term. Do you still consider yourself a street artist?

MM: I never considered myself a street artist. I consider myself an artist. The street just happens to be the place where I express most of work, but I do a bunch of other things and I don’t want to be put in any boxes and compared to others. At first, I really didn’t want to be part of anything commercial. I needed to develop my voice and stay as far away from trying to please people. I needed to be in the streets for a long time because it felt really freeing. It took a long time to find a gallery that I really trusted and that understood my quest and my vision.

LF: As an artist, once your work enters galleries, is there a fear that you might lose your edge?

MM: There is a risk of getting comfortable, because street art is hard, but I need to go out there on a regular basis. It’s a point of honor for me to stay in the streets, not just to be in galleries.

LF: The iconic image of you, which you’ve also incorporated into your art with your Artful Vandals and the Naked Army, is the image of you working anonymously, wearing the Mickey Mouse balaclava. Is that part necessity because street art is illegal and part an image that you’ve developed?

MM: Yes, it’s all those things, plus more. At first, I didn’t show myself at all. Then, slowly I showed my body, but I didn’t want to show my face. As you said, it’s illegal, and I didn’t see the point, and then it did become iconic and people recognized it everywhere and it became my face. But it’s more than that, because people always seem to have an opinion about women, what they look like, whether they’re pretty or not, and I didn’t want people to have any opinion about my looks. This was a way for me to take my looks out of the equation. I like it so much better because, now, I’m just a cartoon character. And it’s just so much more efficient. To me, this only has perks.

LF: Having followed your career, there is no question to me that you are a feminist.

MM: Very much so.

MM: Do you think that art is a legitimate way to fight sexism and the patriarchy?

LF: Absolutely! I don’t think it’s as powerful as changing laws, but I do think it’s something to be valued. Art has this power to affect people when they least expect it. It goes around people’s shields and triggers an emotion, memories, and other stuff they don’t necessarily guard. Art gives people strength and power in unconventional ways and beyond a cerebral understanding. But I don’t think that being an artist is more important than being a lawmaker.

MM: What are your thoughts on the Women’s March and the #MeToo movement?

LF: I feel very strongly about both those movements. Obviously, there were initial concerns about the lack of diversity and women of colour in the Women’s March, but that seemed to be quickly rectified. I was part of the Women’s March in San Francisco because I was there at the time and I felt like a million bucks. When Trump got elected, I felt so lonely, like my power was gone. Just to be among people who feel like you on basic issues… And I was there with three guys. I think there’s power in numbers and when you’re with a group of people that feel like you, that energy is important. It really refueled me and made me feel good.

I had a very strong reaction to the #MeToo movement. I felt like shit for an entire week because it really brought out so many things for me. It felt like therapy we were all taking part in, each imparting our own personal experience. But, it brought back a lot of anger and it uncovered anger because I felt like I hadn’t allowed myself the opportunity to be angry. Women have a tendency in this society to blame ourselves for certain things, and when everyone suddenly says, “No, it’s not ok,” you allow yourself to feel those emotions and target the people who deserve your anger. But, it was a healthy thing and I still think it’s a healthy thing that it managed to unblock a bunch of stuff that I still had inside me. It’s a beautiful movement and I think it’s extremely impressive to see that there are actual consequences [for abusers] and that’s surprising everybody. Not the fact that any of this happened… not a single woman is surprised by any of the allegations… but, the fact that men are losing their jobs and publicly shamed… I was in Atlanta and I started a conversation with this 55-year-old woman who used to work at a nuclear power plant. She was the only woman there and she used to walk around with a knife because men used to put their hands all over her.

LF: What are your hopes for the movement? Are you worried, like some people are, about a backlash?

MM: I think backlashes are inevitable because of how social media works. People sometimes get too rigid in their positions, usually because they’re behind their laptops and not face-to-face with people, and so debates and attacks become personal. People are more concerned with being right than with building a better society with allies. So, I think a backlash will happen, but I hope at some point it’s going to balance itself out.

LF: When it comes to your art, you’re not only a feminist, but also very politically aware. I’ve seen references to refugees and Indigenous issues in your street art. Are these issues just as important to you?

MM: Of course, it’s just that women’s issues affect me on a very personal level every single day. I can’t be the voice of others’ reality. I can speak of them as much as I can, but it would be hypocritical of me to represent Muslim women or Indigenous women.

LF: You travel a lot and you go back and forth in the States where Trump is president. What are your concerns? 

MM: Kids in power are having tantrums. I find it crazy that this is the world that we’re living in right now. Immature, unintelligent men with fragile egos are in power in such powerful countries and they don’t give a shit. Ego and testosterone and lack of awareness of the world is really concerning for me right now. It’s hard to figure things out because everything has shifted, and we have no real points of reference. Even traditional media has changed.

LF: Because of your work focusing on Pussy Power and images of vaginas, you’ve had issues with censorship on Instagram. What do you think about it?

MM: It’s so hypocritical. They allow hate speech and vulgar images, and they allow nudity, but somehow not mine. I know that I have people who hate my work and flag it all the time, I get it. But the fact that Instagram and Facebook reviews it and takes it down infuriates me when they let everything else go. I flag things all the time… Nazi images, Islamophobia, offensive porn. And except for the porn, everything else is deemed ok by them. How? It’s hate speech. But, when they review my stuff they always take it down. I find that very hypocritical. Especially when it’s just a part of your body and I’m not even doing anything vulgar. They’re basically saying that parts of me are not ok for public consumption. Facebook and Instagram are part of our societal landscape. Their power and influence can’t be ignored. They have a responsibility to reflect better on society’s values because they exert so much power. I don’t think they’re where they should be, considering their social importance, because they’re imposing society’s standards by censoring these images.

LF: If you had to describe women in one word what would it be?

MM: Power.

LF: If you couldn’t be an artist, what would you be?

MM: When I was younger I wanted to teach kids, but I think that would be freaking exhausting. Maybe I would be a barista and open a coffee shop where people could congregate and just feel safe.

LF: What is the one thing that is giving you hope for 2018?

MM: The power that women have found within themselves. This whole new acceptance and role of women… That gives me a lot of hope, not just for women, but for society overall. Women who are treated equally and have more power are going to make society that much more powerful, and men who don’t fall into stereotypes of masculine strength are also going to be more powerful.

As women redefine femininity and who they really are, they, in turn, will allow men to redefine who they are and be less of those stereotypes that are extremely oppressive and toxic to them as well. Men have a much higher rate of suicide than women. To be a man in this society is hard. So, more women taking their place and redefining womanhood is going to allow more men to be who they truly are. For society and our common future that’s a beautiful thing.

To discover more of Miss Me’s work, you can check out her website here.

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