We Spoke to Montreal’s Premiere Art Vandal About Her Naked Army
MissMe's latest work brings her iconic wheatpaste posters to life.
Montreal's alleys and buildings have been her canvas for years, but don't call MissMe a street artist. "Artful vandal" is the nomenclature she prefers, a term she feels better describes the feminist wheatpastes she's been plastering across the globe for the last few years.
Her collections include tributes to famous trailblazers Simone de Beauvoir and Malala Yusafzai and effigies of musical greats Amy Winehouse and Nina Simone, to name but a few (plus she draws a mean Tupac). The former ad woman is also the artist behind the striking "Pussy Illuminati" stickers and bus shelter hijacks that have been popping up (mostly in Montreal) over the last few years.
Her most popular piece, however, is the semi-eponymous, pseudo self-portrait Vandal, a drawing of a naked woman wearing a Mickey Mouse-eared balaclava.
For her latest exhibit at Montreal culture hub Phi Centre, MissMe was invited to plaster the gallery's walls with a few dozen larger-than-life renditions of her famous image. She then celebrated the end of the exhibit with the launch of a new video for which she recruited a group of women to bring her Vandals to life.
We met with the artist to talk about this "Army of Vandals" and to ask what it's like to do a whole day video shoot with a bunch of naked women you've just met (spoiler: It's amazing).
VICE: What does the Vandal represent?
MissMe: They're all different—well most of them are different, and they're basically here as a power army, as women who are unapologetic about their bodies, their sexualities, and won't take any crap from anyone socially or mentally.
So you've been putting her up on the streets for years, and now you've brought her to life. Tell me about this video.
It's a very exciting project. I brought her to life when it comes to human form, because she's been living in my head, and in the streets, but it was just to make that transition. It's like in Mary Poppins. She had that little magic powder—it's like if you put that magic powder on my Vandals all over the world all over the streets, and you just gave them a point to come and rally. It's basically just to show that the Vandal isn't just a piece of art; it's actually an idea that resonates with a lot of women across cultures, across languages, across countries, and that is a way to show it. Because it's very different to see an image that's drawn and painted and someone that is naked with a mask that's just looking at you and saying, "What?"
This is a naked woman, but it's not sexual, is it?
Well, it can be sexual if the woman chooses it to be, but it doesn't intend to seduce. It's not using the power of her body to seduce in order to get someone to like her or to have an opinion on her or to feel the value of herself through the eyes of someone else. It's basically just trying to say that when you're born with a woman's body, automatically, sexually, you have the burden of what society puts on you. Society is very unresolved when it comes to sex, and usually it falls upon the woman to carry that burden just because she's born with a woman's body, and I feel that is wrong. [When men misbehave], women are blamed or women have to change the way they are or explain themselves, which makes no sense. So this is just a soldier claiming her body as just that—her body. Not an object of desire, not something to prove her worth.
There's a lot of power and a bit of rage in this video. What were you hoping to convey, and how did the women feel, taking part in this?
It's not a video that's against anything—it's about taking possession of ourselves, but in a more aggressive way, against this oppressive mentality. It's a crazy video, completely out there.
It's thirty women from different backgrounds and cultures and shapes and ethnicities, who willingly took part. We asked people to participate without really explaining anything, and in two days, we got flooded with emails from people who said, "I want to be part of your army. I want to get involved."
The experience of filming the video was amazing. I can't find proper words. It was like a spiritual awakening through womanhood. We all felt so connected. And I didn't know most of these girls, because they replied to a call on Instagram—it's mostly people who follow me that I have never met. Everybody was so happy. Everybody was so willing, and, I mean, I asked these girls to get naked and to do ridiculous crazy stuff, and because it was such a lovely, self-accepting environment, everybody felt so empowered. I had so many girls come to me to say how amazing it was, how important it was. We finished filming at eleven at night, and no one wanted to leave, and we had filmed for like ten hours.
It's crazy for me to realize how many people are following this, how much this affects people. One girl came up to me with tears in her eyes, and she said this was really important for her to have been there. She said, "No you don't understand—it's the first time in my life that I am naked in front of anyone other than myself." And she told me it was extraordinary, that she felt beautiful, womanly, good. It was insane for me, completely crazy. One girl got her period in the middle, and I was like, "It's no big deal! We'll put paint on it!" It was really just about accepting who we were, and all the shame we can associate with our bodies vanished during the shoot.
So do you feel like your army of Vandals, which has now come to life, is becoming a movement?
I don't know if it's a movement. I like the idea that it could be a movement. It definitely represents something that speaks to a lot of people that is very real. It definitely talks about subjects that a lot of people are talking about, but in a different way, in a way I think that a lot of women feel is more relevant to them because it has less fancy words. It's less patronizing, less cute and girly. Because it's more real, more raw, and caters to a lot of types of more raw women who are a little less cute, a little less fitting into those girly boxes. But it says the same thing: Empower yourself and empower other women, because we're not there yet, and it's a beautiful thing to do.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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