Montreal street artist Miss Me is well known around town for her photorealistic Artful Vandal, Pussy Illuminati and Saints of Soul wheatpastes which can be found in every neighbourhood, and even in cities from Paris to Havana to Dakar. Increasingly, her work is gaining visibility in other regions too thanks to some recent high-profile features in outlets like California’s Brit & Co (whose video clip has been viewed over 300,000 times), Vice, CBC, Elle Quebec, Marie Claire and of course, Cult MTL. Soon she’ll be heading to SXSW in Austin, TX where the Brit & Co clip will be screened — but before she goes, Miss Me will be doing a live installation of her work this Saturday night at the Phi Centre/Cult MTL Nuit Blanche event, La Nuit Tribe.
“When people call me a street artist, I tell them I’m an artist and the street just happens to be where I express myself,” Miss Me says over coffee. “The street doesn’t define my art.”
The Artful Vandal, the series she’ll be highlighting this weekend, is possibly her best known work and also her most personal, since the masked nude figure portrayed in the larger-than-life wheatpastes are based on her own body. Unlike the typical nude portrayal of women’s bodies however, Miss Me’s Vandals are not posing suggestively or flirtatiously. Rather, they stand their ground with a head-on, defiant stance with all the agency of a woman in control of her own image as she dares the passerby to shed their proprietary shock at the revealed female form so that she can finally be seen for who she is.
“The vandal is not about the female gender classically portrayed,” Miss Me says. “It’s about so many more things. It’s the reaction to the oppression of the patriarchal society. It’s not about men oppressing women, it’s about the patriarchal mentality oppressing the female reality.
“The female body has been hijacked and taken away from women,” she continues. “We didn’t have the power over it, they did. It became an object. We take it back. It’s ours. That’s why it’s always a frontal pose — the vandals are never trying to seduce or look pretty. It’s confrontational and naked. People are thrown off by that. Usually when a woman is naked, it’s to be sexual. But if it’s just a woman that happens to be naked and in front of you, people don’t know what to do with it.”
The Vandal was born out of the frustration that Miss Me felt when a selfie she’d posted to her Instagram and Facebook pages was deemed too racy by the social media platforms. The image was taken down and her accounts were blocked.
“I felt so censored just for how I was born,” she says about the experience. “With everything you see, straight-up hate speech and obvious sexuality and even porn, this was just me and my body. I was enraged, so I drew the vandal and put it up everywhere in the street. I thought if I can’t be on Instagram, I’ll be in the fucking streets. I put a unicorn [over the breast] because I thought, clearly it’s a magical powerful animal under there because as soon as you show it, everything goes down! So that’s how it started.”
Pasting the nude drawings are empowering and liberating for the artist, giving her a sense of control over how women’s bodies are portrayed in public spaces. Not everyone agrees however, and some of her wheatpastes have inspired some critical on-wall dialogue over the validity of using female nudity as a weapon against patriarchal attitudes. For her part, Miss Me acknowledges that not everyone will agree with her ideas on the subject.
“Everybody is different and everybody’s liberation comes from their own struggle,” she notes. “In my experience, my body was always something I had to answer for and apologize for. I always had to hide my sexuality. I was told it was a shameful thing. The Vandal is saying ‘no, you won’t decide for me.’
“It’s me, where I come from and from my own experience. It resonates with a lot of women. Other women don’t like it because they have very different stories from me and that’s fine. If anybody tries to impose their own liberation — which is a real and true liberation to other people who don’t necessarily have the same trouble — onto others, it becomes an oppression.
“It speaks to something that a lot of us live,” Miss Me says. “The girls get it. Guys don’t get it,” she laughs. “They like it, but they don’t get it!” ■
Miss Me will be at the Nuit Blanche event la Nuit Tribe — featuring music by Gaslamp Killer, Fred Everything and le Matos, food by Tomahawk and much more — at the Phi Centre (407 St-Pierre), 9 p.m., free