This interview is part of Speciwomen's cross partnership with Adolescent Content.
By SPECIWOMEN Photography HANNAH SOMMER
Who are you?
Melissa’s PA. She’s too famous to answer these questions.
(I’m kidding, hi I’m one of the many artists living in SE London)
How did you first get into art?
I think it’s just an innate thing that I was born with, which was always encouraged by my parents. I was born in China to an English dad and Chinese mum, and we lived in a hotel for 7 years. Back then in the early 90s China was still very much third world and had just started developing, so my brother and I were mostly confined to playing inside the apartment. This meant that we both spent a lot of time watching movies, drawing and painting and getting creative with how we entertained ourselves. Perhaps this is when my artistic nature was really set in stone.
What are your favourite materials to use?
Definitely gouache paint, I recently switched to matt emulsion as an experiment but then started using gouache again and it was pure heaven. I wanted to cry, it was so nice! It was like breaking up with the love of your life, having a fling with a rebound, and then getting back together with bae (haha).
What places allow you to feel the most creative?
Anywhere comfortable with no distractions, I hate stating the obvious but being able to focus and think is really important for the creative process.
Where do you draw the most inspiration from?
All the weird old things that humans leave behind like stories, sentimental objects, folk art and religious artefacts. The British Museum, Hunterian, Wellcome Collection and the V&A are all places I like to wander around in when I’m looking for some kind of inspiration. I feel like history is loaded with stories and lessons and anthropology really interests me. If you’ve never looked at Asafo Flags, google it now! They’re these amazing applique flags that are still integral to the culture of the Ghanaian Fante tribe today. If I’m ever struggling with colour, I’ll look through them and subconsciously absorb all of it in. They are honestly some of the most beautiful things I’ve Seen.
Where do you prefer to work?
Anywhere with a constant flow of tea. I actually just moved into a new studio, which I’m sharing with three amazing artists: Assa Ariyoshi, Chris Harnan, and Jack Felgate. When you’re sharing a space with other people you really admire, you end up in the right mental state for being your best creative self. It’s about community above all.
What does your practice mean to you?
It means continuous learning, and I think that’s so important. A lot of the work I make is highly intuitive and things operate on a subconscious level, but for it to have meaning I need to be constantly learning about things and forming opinions. I guess it’s like having to fill a well, which I can draw from so that little nuggets of knowledge make their way into my work, translated into details and shapes. My practice gives me the freedom to learn about and research a variety of topics and subjects, all of which I’m hoping will make me a better person. This is something I’m very grateful for.
Who is your work for?
It depends on the project. When I get commissions, then the work is for my client and whatever they intend to use it for, and there’s usually a lot of back and forth on tweaking the design. When it’s a collaboration, then it’s for a shared passion. When I’m lucky enough to be making work for myself, then it’s for myself and just lives in my private collection. It’s my way of communicating, figuring out the world, or just simply expressing whatever emotion I’m feeling at the time, and a big bonus if other people can relate to it or learn something from it.
Has your art ever been on display?
I’ve been part of a few shows and exhibitions, and had my first solo show last summer in collaboration with Doyenne (a skate company doing great things for the community), and the next event will be the 20 th June in collaboration with Anna Ginsburg (an excellent animator). We are in the middle of making a film illustrating a poem by Warsan Shire – an award-winning poet who wrote the poems for Beyonce’s Lemonade videos. Keep your eyes peeled.
How are you aiming to make your imprint as a woman in the art world?
To be honest, I don’t really think of things in these terms. I don’t believe that your gender should make a difference to people’s opinions of your practice as an artist, so I don’t consider myself a woman in the art world. I’m just an artist, no different to the male artists. Having said that, the person’s work is always a reflection of how they experience the world, and I do identify as a woman so I guess I’m communicating a point of view from this perspective. It might be a bit insightful for people who don’t see things in the same way that I do, however this includes women and men and everyone in between.
We’ve seen body positivity is your advocacy, where did this stem from and are you consciouslyattaching this theme to your works?
Right, so how many of us have felt like we were not good enough in some way due to body consciousness? I would expect it would be a nice and neat 99%, and obviously not just women, but women have historically suffered more when it comes to this due to sexual politics in the Western Culture.
A really good book to read is ‘Ways of Seeing’ by John Berger, in it he states that “Women constantly meet glances which act like mirrors, reminding them of how they look or how they should look. Behind every glance is a judgement.”He then goes into detail about how the male gaze (from the female nude to advertisements) influences the way that women ultimately see themselves. Once you realise how much of a cultural construct this is, you then have the power to change it. The female nudes that I produce are in celebration of a variety of body shapes and the subject’s ownership of it. I hope that by doing this I’m diminishing the male gaze and in a way reclaiming our bodies for ourselves. If she appears sexual in any way, then that sexuality belongs to her and not to the viewer (I feel very strongly about the rights of women to enjoy sex, and want to stress how stupid and archaic slut shaming is). So yes, it’s definitely a conscious thing.
Overall, what would you like to achieve with this passion of yours?
I sometimes get DMs from girls telling me that my drawings make them feel better about themselves - this is something that really motivates me to keep making work. When the media represents different body shapes and a diverse range of figures and details are held in high regard, we begin to normalise these shapes and make big shifts in the ideals of beauty. It’s very powerful, and I’m glad I can be a part of this in some way. We are all victims of being made to feel inadequate for falling short of beauty standards dictated by the media (men and women and everyone in between), so if I can remind people that these standards don’t have to mean anything, then great!
Follow Melissa’s work here.