Why are there so few Womxn Gamers? Written by Gwendolyn Faker

The sexism and discrimination we see in gaming is a self fulfilling prophecy; while video games and advertising were initially gender-neutral, advertising began to narrow its focus to young boys as a target market following the video game crash of 1983. Since then a toxic culture has grown up around a mandate of exclusion and discrimination.

The sexism and discrimination we see in gaming is a self fulfilling prophecy; while video games and advertising were initially gender-neutral, advertising began to narrow its focus to young boys as a target market following the video game crash of 1983. Since then a toxic culture has grown up around a mandate of exclusion and discrimination.

Where critics and curators are the gate keepers of the art world, in gaming, well, it’s just dude bros (also known as broflakes). They’re the gamer archetype we all know and loathe; the straight white man aged 13-35 shouting obscenities into a headset ‘schooling newbs’ and shouting about how he’ll ‘face fuck your mum’. For the past 30 years we’ve watched as womxn and womxns bodies used as bullseyes, objects of sexual desire, props, plot-points, trophies and decoration. Honestly it’s tiring, and a big turn off for many would be gamers.

Hi, I’m Gwendolyn, I’m 30 years old(so I was born just after the Atari Shock of ’83). I identify as queer and non-binary/gender fluid and I’ve been gaming since I was 4 years old. I’ve been plugged into a NES, a SNES, a Sega, a Gameboy, a N64, a PlayStation, or an Xbox console for most of my life, playing adventure, role playing, puzzle, and PVP fighter games. I’ve whiled away hours in front of a computer screen! Playing old school DOS games when does games were still new school. I’ve played Myst, Oregon Trail, Sims, and in my late teens had a brief but passionate tryst with the MMORPG World of Warcraft that culminated in a 26 hour long binge and the resulting re-evaluation of where my life was headed. I’m no stranger to board and table top games and have known to throw down in Settlers of Catan as well as RISK despite my abhorrence  for colonisation and war and I once sustained a concussion while playing a Monopoly.

Nowadays I don’t play as often as I used to, but I make a point of staying up to date with what’s new, and what’s happening in the industry, especially when it comes to technology, and issues of diversity and representation.

The latest statistics show that 48% of females play games, and 50% of males play games, so why does it seem womxn are still being excluded from gaming?

“Statistically gaming is very male dominated in terms of whose making the games … and how the subject of the games are swell… so you have these groups of dudes who don’t think women should be involved [in] gaming or think we’ve only just got interested in gaming so they have this sense of well we played games because we were bullied in school and it was a way for us to escape being the geeks, how dare you come in all of a sudden and care about games and try to change them, this deep sense of entitlement [of] this is our den our boys club and how dare you try and infiltrate them.”Anita Sarkeesian, Feminist Frequency

If this sounds familiar it may be because these same attitudes exist about womxn and ART. Sylvia Stone, when answering the question posed by Lina Nochlin ‘Why have there been no Great Women Artists?’, wrote of there being ‘…a sneaking fear of being called a man hater or having the label of penis envy slapped on them in this Freudian age, perhaps they just enjoyed being one of the boys. But these feelings are slowly turning around…’ this self policing, and self doubt, are direct results of this exclusionary culture and it’s disparaging of attitudes towards womxn in gaming(and art).

In terms of evolutionary psychology we know that “female-initiated disruption of a male hierarchy incites hostile behaviour from poor performing males who stand to lose the most status” and it’s been SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN “men who harass women online are actually losers” but that isn’t little comfort when you’re being told to ‘show your tits’ in exchange for gold on the busy a market streets in Ironforge.

The changes we’re seeing (growing diversity and representation) haven’t come about on their own. They’re not a benign development. They’ve been fought hard for.  Thanks to critics and academics like Anita Sarkeesian, Kishonna Gray, Emma Vosen, Kellee Santiago and Jennifer Jenson, we are finally starting to see the industry evolve past it’s caveman attitudes.

But like all social change there is backlash: #GAMERGATE.

While industry professionals have pointed the finger to condemn the #GAMERGATE ‘for damaging the video gaming community and the public perception of the industry’ they’re also partly responsible. In 2007 a study by Miller and Summers (2007) found that, “Of the 49 games included in the analysis, 282 male humans and 53 female human characters appeared, indicating 1 female for every 5.3 male characters”. They’re the ones creating homogenous content, and they’re the ones marketing it. A 2016 study showed nearly 75% of the industry was male. They as the makers of games are reinforcing the idea of gaming as a ‘boys club’ with just about everything they do right down to their hiring practices.

Admitting there’s a problem in gaming is the first step, the question is where do we go from here? The industry itself so far seems unwilling to admit the role they’ve played and would rather point the finger elsewhere. If they could I’m sure they would take #GAMERGATE, and everything it’s dredged up and brought to the light of day, and have it buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in New Mexico like so many unsold video game cartridges.

Thirty years after the Atari Shock, and the subsequent shift in the marketing of video games(from something for everyone to something just for boys), the industry has FINALLY begun to accept what the statistics that have long shown; WOMXN PLAY VIDEO GAMES. It took something as extreme as #GAMERGATE to get the industry thinking about how it treats womxn and the effects that has had on broader cultural attitudes.

Sweet Art put together a panel of womxn gamers and get their ideas and opinions on gaming, their experiences with gamer culture, and what changes they’d like to see;

  • Bernadette, is 31, a Writer for a popular online gaming media outlet, and a Mom.
  • Sarah, is 27, is a lesbian, and works as Theatre Artist.
  • Kelly, is 30, a hairdresser and creative. She has OCD, depression, and Multiple Sclerosis.
  • Penelope, is 23, is studying for a Bachelor of Design (Games), and currently works for a technology company that develops free-roam virtual reality systems.
  • Laura, is 28, an Artist and Arts Educator.

What’s the first game you remember playing? How old were you? How did it make you feel?

Sarah: My mother has a photo of me when I’m incredibly young, [maybe] 2 years old, with my brother (6 years my senior) playing a game on the NES. In this photo, I’m happily sitting next to him with a wide smile, clutching the controller for player 2, and clearly have no idea what I’m doing. I’m willing to bet my brother let me button mash my way through my early childhood. I also remember going to my Aunt’s house for family dinners, where my oldest cousin had a SNES, and I’d be allowed to play it for a while after supper, usually playing Yoshi’s Island, probably because I thought Yoshi was a cute character. I’d have been around 6 or 7 at this point. The first time I remember gaming leaving a lasting feeling with me, though, is when Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time came out for N64. I was at the house of a friend whose father owned the local video store, so they always had access to the newest movies and games. They’d hooked up a projector to the system, and I remember standing in the basement as my friend’s older brother rode around Hyrule, showing us Link’s moves, Epona, and the songs you could play on the Ocarina. I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. The graphics were beautiful when I compared them to anything else I’d played, there was a cute horse you got to have as your companion, and the melodies on the ocarina had me entranced. Needless to say, I was hooked, and the rest is history.

Bernadette: I’m 31, have had a mild obsession with games since I can remember and find that it both alienates and brings me closer to people. I’m not great at making friends my age and find that is often due to a lack of mutual interests: I don’t care about your kitchen remodel, and you don’t care about my speed run times! It’s hard. My 11yr old son is on the spectrum and has always had a knack for strategy games and video games. It makes having something in common so easy for us while also giving me joy to see my little nerd excel at something. I don’t play online anymore; I have kinda been scared away. I get addicted and spend too much time so that when I end up having a negative experience in something I have invested so much time and energy on, it really bothers me and turns me off the game. I write for [an online gaming media outlet] and have for several years, but I struggle to break into anything more in the game world as I’m not tech savvy, I’m a writer but don’t know how to get more involved. Games are life!

Laura: I never actually grew up with any games. My parents refused to buy me and my sister any gaming consoles apart from a shared original game-boy. It was technically my sister’s so I could only play it every now and then, until she quickly lost interest (being 3 years older than me). I collected more and more games and defeated each and every castle and saved every princess with vigour. When my parents visited their friends, I’d go just so I could sneak up to their attic and play on their SNES (that I still pine over). As I got older I would sneak onto my father’s laptop to play wheel of fortune or “you don’t know jack”, even though I never truly enjoyed trivia games. Basically I got my unknown fix wherever I could. By the time I was a teenager I had developed a taste for gore. Being a goth-y teenager in a small town, I was frequently teased… So I would play PC games to try and escape the reality that was my teenage years. Now that’ I’m an adult I always feel the pang to play, but feel like I rarely have time to actually play. I still stick to PC games, simply because I kick serious ass in them, and I tend to fumble a bit with console controllers. Looking back on my childhood I now realise that gaming was a means to deal with General Anxiety Disorder, which I was officially diagnosed with in my mid twenties.

What games do you play most (RPG, PVP, MMORPG, BOARD, etc)? What are you favourites? How do you chose which games to play?

Sarah: I’ve had so many favourites over the years. These days I would say I mostly play RPG or MMORPG games. Some old favourites include Harvest Moon 64, Ocarina of Time, all Pokemon games, Majora’s Mask and a good game of Smash Bros. or Mario Party when with a group of friends. Recent favourites in the last few years have been The Last of Us (the story of and bond between Joel and Ellie had me in tears by the end), Skyrim (for the vast landscape, epic story elements and immersive sense of fantasy), Witcher 3 (I was really invested in Geralt’s story both as a Witcher and as a man struggling with the relationships he has with those around him), Uncharted 4 (the gameplay was so fun, and the sense of adventure and excitement was incredibly addictive) and, most recently, Horizon Zero Dawn (for its look into mankind’s use of technology/how far is too far, the examination of mankind’s connection to the Earth itself, and also for its feminist protagonist.) I’ve always played other games like Animal Crossing, Minecraft, Just Dance, Guitar Hero, Destiny and the like, but those are more titles I play for fun or with friends. The ones I’ve talked about more thoroughly in these answers are the ones that keep me playing week after week, and really fuel my passion for gaming.

Laura: Typically the games I chose are based on reviews, or how it looks. I know the saying “never judge a book by it’s cover” but sometimes you just want something with dark hallways and crazy weapons, not fields of butterflies. That being said, I like user reviews. If it’s extremely popular and seems mentally challenging, I’ll give it a try. It has to have a good story line or purpose. I don’t like doing super repetitive things with little outcome. I tend to like creepy-ish games. There’s a cool one that’s coming out soon that I’m really excited for, called “We Happy Few”. It looks exactly like the type of thing I’m into.

Penelope: I like a range of game types. My favourites tend to be social party games, or PvE games of any platform. I enjoy spending time with other people and those games enable that. I also love sim games such as the Sims or Animal Crossing. I like making things and personalising them. I look for games that have an appealing art style, interesting story, or are based around an interesting idea. It also depends on how socially progressive the game is (how is gender portrayed? Does is reinforce negative stereotypes of race, gender, sexuality etc?)  For example Dragon Quest looks super fun and cute, but I hate the way the people are drawn and so only tried it once. Games that reinforce negative stereotypes of any type (gender, race etc) through art/design I’ll also be less likely to play, or feel comfortable with. Games with exceptional design (characters, animation, art, everything) such as Overwatch and Breath of the Wild I am extremely attracted to.

Gwendolyn: I have never been able to play first person anything, it makes me so nauseas, I have dyspraxia so that may have something to do with it. I’ve lways preferred games with a story, something that let me be someone else for a few hours and see and do things I’d never done before. Games like Harvest Moon, Monster Hunter, Ōkami, Fable, and Monster Rancher are my favourite titles. That being said I love PVP Fighter games like Eternal Champions, Bloody Roar, and Street Fighter, mostly because as a kid they allowed me to beat the shit out of my siblings. I like cute games, and I would be lying if I didn’t say art didn’t play a HUGE part it what I chose to play. Now I am more discerning about what I play than I was as a kid or even as a teenager, I won’t play games that rely on tropes or perpetuate stereotypes.

What has changed since you first starting gaming?

Kelly: My view of games and the kinds of games that I like vs the type of games I thought I would like. I really like The Darkness and Farcry which are pretty horrible in terms of story and all that. I don’t believe in “putting aside your feminism” to watch/play/whatever, basically consume something that doesn’t align perfect with your feminism. I mean, let’s be real, if I were to do that I’d literally watch nothing. I guess I’m a lot more into violence that I imagined and also I’m a run straight into the danger vs hide n’ wait until it passes type which surprises me.

Gwendolyn: When I started gaming everything was so basic, clunky 2d 16bit was the newest thing and now we’ve got these games with totally immersive 3D world. We have virtual reality games now! I think though, the really disappointing thing is that while the technology has been hurtling into the future faster than the speed of light attitudes about gaming and gamer culture hasn’t progressed passed dial-up. It’s old fashioned, and if you do something you’re ‘not supposed to’ like play while female you get this horrible non-sensible screeching sound. Games are still marketed almost exclusively to men and boys, most titles are still shoot-em-ups and when we actually do get an expansive sandbox game(GTA) it’s full of sexism, rape, and racism, which means I sure as hell am not playing it. I think now post Gamer Gate we’ve seen game makers start to recognise that they’re part of the problem, and have started to make changes.

Penelope: Games are getting a lot more inclusive. For example Pokemon Red was also one of my first games, now in Pokemon I can choose my gender and skin colour where I could not before. There is also a little bit more diversity in the main characters of AAA games. Games companies are being held more accountable for lack of diversity. With indie games and the increased choice around games, there’s no one way to be a gamer anymore, and it’s easier to find diverse games in both gameplay or characters.

Laura: I think the community has changed since I first started gaming too. It’s more acceptable now for literally anyone to be a gamer without being pressured or tested regularly on how much they know. People realise now that it’s fun. It’s a release, an escape. You still get the idiot that tries to call you out, but I think there’s more variation of people with access to games now, which not only widens demographics, but also makes gaming more acceptable and less challenged in society. It’s like reading Fifty Shades of Black on the subway: Everyone knows you’re reading porn, but it’s totally acceptable. Does that analogy make sense?

Do you see yourself represented in Games? Do you feel included in the ‘Gamer’ community? What still needs to change? What would you like those who create games to know? What would you like to see in the future?

Penelope: I tend to avoid most gaming communities. Most public gaming events I’ve attended I have felt uncomfortable at, being almost always the only girl. Also being queer, non-monogamous, and not-white leaves me feeling safer and most comfortable gaming with friends or people whom I know are good. I sometimes see parts of myself being represented, and each time is like a breath of fresh air, and I feel a little more like myself. I generally see this through custom character customisation allowing me to be female or have dark skin. I never see my non-monogamous side portrayed in a positive light.

Laura:  I always felt sort of strange. Boys would hit in my in-game because I was a girl, or they’d make fun of me and I’d gank the shit out of them. In real-life a lot of people saw it as a ploy I think: “fake gamer girls” and all that. More so now than when I was a teenager. Back then I was a huge tomboy. I didn’t fit in with most “stereotypically girly” things. It just didn’t feel right. As I grew older and discovered more about myself and what it meant to be me, I learned to embrace them. As a (mostly) straight cis female (still wear all black and looove makeup by the way) I tend to get picked on when people find out I’m a bit of a nerd. I read comic books, play video games, (I also play roller derby, and the bagpipes). Those things help make up who I am. Yes I have people challenge them all the time, particularly guys. I get asked typical questions to “challenge” us apparently “fake geek girls”. Just because I don’t know the exact name and clip size of every single weapon in all the games I’ve ever played, doesn’t prove anything. I feel uncomfortable telling big gamers that I like to game because since I got a “grown-up job” I don’t play as much. That makes me judge myself, assuming that they’re judging me. Plus I hate looking like an idiot by not being able to follow along chit chat on games I don’t know anything about. It just perpetuates the “fake gamer” stereotype, like I’m supposed to know every game. It sucks because I do like talking about the games that I play, and that fear of bringing it up to people definitely hinders me.

Kelly: I’d love less slurs, [and] more gender diverse characters – especially if you’re creating a character physically – why should the first thing you have to choose be “male” or “female”? It’s outdated and boring. If I can be purple with green spikes a square jaw and GIANT tits what the fuck does gender have to do with it? If you’re telling a story, or you want to tell a story but that story isn’t your experience for the love of satan please either don’t tell it or find people who’s story it is to make sure you’ve got it right. I would like men to stop being gatekeepers. I would like more Ashly Burch… that’s just me being a sucker for funny, smart, nerds. I would [also] like Fallout 4’s township building element to not suck.

Sarah: There are many games on the market today that I’ve played and raved about afterwards. I think the tech is sitting in a good place these days. Game controls (for the most part) feel intuitive, the graphics are cool, there’s a lot of good design work and attention to detail in many of the titles I’ve played in the past year. I think the industry has to be careful about getting a bit complacent; I’ve played games recently where I’ve had the thought of “oh this bit of gameplay here is exactly like what so-and-so did in that other game.” That’s all just from a mechanics point of view, though. In video games, as in TV, movies, real life in general, the main thing I’d love to see is more representation. Of all people, of all genders, races, sexualities, classes, etc. It could be my identity as a gay woman, but I want to see more ladies kickin’ ass and takin’ names! So many developers are taking time to really flesh out characters and give them compelling story arcs, it’d be nice to see this diversify and continue to be a part of what makes games so great.

We’ve spoken to the players, the makers, and the critics and there seems to be consensus; games are important, they’re a big part of a lot of womxns lives, but the culture and attitudes around womxn in gaming are lagging.

There are still battles to be fought and as we’ve seen; womxn are playing to win. With more and more womxn entering the industry everyday from all sides it won’t be long before we’ll have defeated the final boss(sexism).

Written for We Are Sweet Art by Gwendolyn Faker

Sources/Resources

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Ama-zine!; A Zine Guide to London. by Gwendolyn Faker

We’ve been building a zine library and working on our very own Sweet Art Zine. As we approach our zine release we thought we’d share our favourite hot spots! If you’re a collector or a maker or even if you’re entirely new to the medium there’s a zine out there just for you. Now let’s see if we can’t help you find it.

Wikipedia says; “A zine (/ˈzn/ zeen; short for magazine or fanzine) is most commonly a small-circulation self-published work of original or appropriated texts and images, usually reproduced via photocopier. Usually zines are the product of a single person, or a very small group…”

Now as much as we love wikipedia we prefer to get our knowledge direct from women with real life experience and first hand knowledge. We got in touch with Grrrl Zine Fair founder Lu Williams to talk about zines, zine culture, and what the Grrrl Zine Fair is all about.

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We visited the last Grrrl Zine Fair event where we were able to meet the makers and pick up a few TREASURES to add to our growing zine library. We did a little walk through to share with you, because it sucks to miss out!

 

Now, if you just can’t wait until the next zine fair we’ve got you covered. We’re going to take you across London to all the spots we know, are you ready?!

We’ll start in East London for the first leg of this zine odyssey.

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The Anarchist Book Shop; can be found with a little work at 84b Whitechapel High Street in the East End of London. Founded in 1886 is the largest anarchist publishing house in the country and oldest of its kind in the English speaking world.‘The book publishing arm (Freedom Press) has a history stretching back almost 150 years and has brought pamphlets by luminaries of the time to London audiences and beyond. In the modern era it has published every year since 1984,’ 

 

…except for between 2012 and 2013 following an arson attempt on the building.

It’s secreted down a narrow alley so it’s a little hard to find, obscured by a KFC sign next door. What you’re looking for is a narrow alley a few meters West of the White Chapel Gallery… it’s under the KFC sign. Now once you’re inside the effort you’ve put into finding it will be well worth it. It’s full (literally from floor to ceiling in some places) with flyers, manuals, books, pamphlets, zines, patches, stickers, badges, and much more. Everything you could ever need to start a revolution can be found between these walls. They have an extensive selection of titles on a huge variety of subjects(our favorite being ‘What About the Rapists?’). *You can check out a small selection of what’s in stock from their online shop, but we recommend visiting for the full experience.

Whitechapel Gallery as we mentioned, is literally next door to The Anarchist Bookshop. The gallery is pretty notable; with displays, commissions and archive galleries that are free and open all year round, six days a week. The Gallery also hosts ticketed shows and past exhibitions have included work by Sarah Lucas, Keith Sonnier, Hannah Höch, and a recent takeover by the Geurrilla Girls.

The gallery shop is mostly books with zines here and there. Because it’s a gallery shop what’s on offer changes pretty frequently depending on what’s being shown. In the past we’ve found more than a dozen zines on the shelves.

From there it was on to Brick Lane Books, it’s on Brick Lane(duh!). A few blocks away there’s Beach on Cheshire street. Visiting the area in the week it’s pretty quiet, visiting on a Sunday when the market is in full swing is a whole other story…

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You can continue heading east into Hackney where you can get a real bang for your buck (pound?). If you visit Broadway Market you’ll find Donlon Books, Broadway Bookshop, and Artwords; three small but well stocked shops, all of which have some pretty rad zines. If you make this a destination on any given Saturday and as the name suggests you’ll find another market in full swing.

 

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The final stop in East London is pretty conveniently located as Banner Repeater happens to be on platform 1 at Hackney Downs train station. It’s an Artist-led contemporary art space: a reading room, and experimental project space, founded by Ami Clarke in 2010. Their reading room holds a permanently sited public archive of Artists’ Publishing which you can browse, and a shop that’s always changing but always filled with independently published books and zines.

Heading into the West ; you can visit the ICA, aka The Institute of Contemporary Art. Founded in 1946, the ICA ‘promotes and encourages an understanding of radical art and culture‘. Usually running a varied programme of exhibitions, films, talks and events. The book shop is usually pretty well stocked with a selection of independently published magazines. What you’ll find on offer here is a little glossier than your regular zine fare, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find a good old fashioned xerox’d zine on the shelves.

IMG_7040Near Tottenham Court tube you can also stop into Claire de Rouen. Focusing on art, fashion, and photography, the shop in another nearly secret spot (look for the all black door next to the betting shop). Selling beautiful print products in all forms, zines included. Once you’ve managed to find the entrance and make your way up a flight of stairs you’ll find a bright and cozy little shop. With soft light, fresh flowers, and music drifting from a record player at the back this place is hashtag aesthetic.

If you want to indulge your nerdier side(who doesn’t?) hit GOSH! and Orbital comics. Two of the best comic shops in London. Both stock a wide range of new and vintage/collectible comic books and a selection of independently published work. Whether you’re looking for that Archie VS. The Punisher cross over comic, a first issue Spiderman, or trying to get your hands on a copy of SNOTGIRL both of these spots will have you covered, they’ve even got offerings for the manga connoisseur.

Down South there’s The Feminist Library. Started in 1975 as a small collection of contemporary material it is now considered to be the most significant library of feminist material in England contains 7500 books of which 5000 are non-fiction, 500 poetry publications and 1500 periodical titles; many self-published, spanning more than 85 metres of shelving. The Feminist Library Book Shop is open on Saturday (12-5pm). They sell new and used books, periodicals and zines. They also serve coffee and cake and host readings and events.

There’s also 56a which got it’s start when the building was squatted. More of a political centre than a bookshop 56a calls itself an ‘infoshop’. It’s staffed by volunteers and they stock countercultural press. With works that explore everything from (trans)feminism, anti-colonialism, anti-globalisation, environmentalism, squatting, anti-fascism, No Borders, queer politics/organising, anarchism, situationism, autonomism, anti-civilisation, anti-capitalism, radical pedagogy, DIY, bikes, self-care, cooperatives, permaculture, consensus organising, to armed struggle, this place is a pretty radical (literally). They also have a zine library, open ‘til 8pm on Thursdays.

This barely scratches the surface of where you can find zines in London, those are just a few of our favorites.

Did we miss something? Would you like us to check out your zine or zine event?

x Gwendolyn Faker

‘You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970’; a graphic take on the counterculture – by Sarah Kingham

‘Records and Rebels’ at the V&A applies their house style of curatorial ‘cluster-fuck’ to the 1967-70 period, when psychedelia ruled avant garde and pop culture, and mainstream media and advertising rushed to jump on the bandwagon. The aesthetic of the show is more; disparate objects clustered in arbitrary groupings, and headphones (previously utilised in the phenomenally successful ‘David Bowie Is’ show) releasing blasts of various music of the era as you approach the display cases. On one level, this jumble of sound, colour and imagery is justified as appropriate to the times; densely layered and vividly hued visuals were a signature of the graphic design work of the counter culture, as were collages of images or sounds in the arts, and multi-media ‘happenings’ that utilised light shows, sounds and performance.

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Unfortunately some of the connections are just too obvious or gauchely executed to be effective. In one of the several rooms devoted to protest inspired art and objects, Guy Debord’s ‘Society of the Spectacle’, the seminal Situationist attack on visually mediated culture, is displayed as a (presumably first edition) copy inside a gutted old fashioned television. As you approach this the Beatles’ ‘Revolution’ blares through the headphones. It’s too gimmicky, too obvious, which is somehow disquieting; you can all too easily imagine a group of creatives around a table throwing out ideas; ‘radical’ exhibition as a precursor for a well-stocked gift shop (which of course there is). The tune ‘Revolution’ doesn’t even seem an appropriate choice, as the ambivalent lyrics advise the imagined young wannabe-revolutionary it addresses to change their head, not their surroundings; and that ‘if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao/You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow’. All of which makes this viewer (and listener) wonder if the show is even more vacuous (or possibly much cleverer) than it appears. Along with the crumpled fencing hanging from the ceiling alongside blow ups of Lenin, Marx, Stalin and Angela Davis (despite her commitment to Communism, I’m not sure how she would feel about sharing the space with Uncle Joe), it reads as a strangely garbled retelling of the preoccupations of the day.

Displayed alongside posters advocating gay rights, black power and women’s liberation, and protesting the Vietnam War, is an original, skimpy, costume from space-opera/sexploitation movie ‘Barbarella’, with a quote from director Roger Vadim claiming Barbarella’s disinhibited sexuality as a triumph not just of free love but for women generally. This juxtaposition of genuine politically engaged objects with a supposedly politically ‘justified’ relic of a piece of cult, pulp culture is rendered even more bizarre by its contrast with the other mannequin on display nearby, decked in a ‘recreation’ of a Black Panthers’ uniform of black leather jacket, beret, and trousers.

To be fair on the V&A, they are a design museum, and attempting to reify concepts, especially those as simultaneously charged and vague as ‘rebellion’ or ‘youth’ through objects is problematic at best. The pieces on show include relics of the era; the wicker, high backed chair Black Panther Huey Newton posed in as an armed and radicalised post-colonial African Prince; two of the Beatles ‘Sergeant Pepper’ satin coats displayed in a re-creation of the album cover, disappointingly gaudy and hideous in the flesh. These share space with the ephemeral, mass produced art-meets-design of the album cover and poster, whether it be advertising a festival or sharing a political or philosophical sentiment.

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Huey Newton seated in wicker chair, 1967: photography attributed to Blair Stapp (shown here reprinted in contemporary poster)

Although the one of a kind objects have an and authenticity and the glamour of celebrity – though more ‘street style’ and less stage costumes and designer wear of the rich and famous might have been truer to a coherent vision of Rebels as well as Records – the strongest objects in the show are often the collisions between the avant garde, graphic design and countercultural and radical politics. Some, like the …and Babies anti-Vietnam poster on display, are so powerful and disturbing that 50 years on they are still painful to view, and hard to imagine living with as ‘decorative’ objects (albeit as serious displays of the political commitments of those who hung them), between pinups of Che and Dylan on the walls of squats and teenage bedrooms.

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‘And babies’ creaated by the AWC, a group of New York based artists whi oppsed the war, using an image of the My Lai Massacre taken by US combat photographer Ronald L. Heaberle in 1969, overlaid by a quote from an interview with US soldier Paul Meadlo who participated in the massacre.

Others show the cornucopia of influence, both on and by the alternative in the graphic arts. The historic inspiration, combining Fin de Siècle and Art Noveau swirls, Dada-like cut and paste and explosions of Victorian circus and Art Deco style lettering, rendered in vivid rainbows of colour is still recognisably present in current design and media.

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Alphons Mucha’s ‘Job’ rolling papers pin-up goes pshychadelic. Poster for Jim Kweskin Jug Band at the Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco by Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelley, 1966.

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The Acid Test, avertising late 1960’s happening, facilitated by Ken Kesey, by Californian artist and designer Wes Wilson.

These aesthetics are still with us today, as is that of the witty and politicised advertising and media style shown in images like Cramer/Saatchi’s 1969 ‘Would you be more careful if it was you that got pregnant?’ campaign for the Family Planning Association.

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‘Would you be more careful it it was you that got pregnant?’, created by Alan Brooking, Bill Atherton and Jeremy Sinclair for Cremer Saatchi advertising agency, London, 1969.

There is plenty to enjoy here; the sheer exuberance of the graphic design’s elaborate and colourful detail is exhilarating, and the idealistic belief displayed in images and objects of protest is profoundly moving. There are contemporary photographs of protestors at the Pentagon, including a youth poking chrysanthemums into the muzzles of guardsmen’s rifles (the first recorded instance of this kind of protest, and the origin of the term ‘flower power’) and earnest young peaceniks in Grosvenor Square tussling with bobbies in capes and domed helmets, who despite their now endearingly anachronistic appearance seem to be dolling out some fairly brutal treatment. Iconic objects are plentiful; not just that photo of Christine Keeler, but also the contact sheets of the shoot, and the original Establishment club chair she straddled in the picture.

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‘Flower Power’ Antiwar demonstrators, Pentagon Building, 1967 by Bernie Boston.

Unfortunately, the combination of the high price of entry (£16 for a full price ticket), uncomfortably dense crowd, mostly of baby boomers, presumably here on a nostalgia trip, and the incoherent nature of the hang strikes a discordant note with the overarching vision of the era the show attempts to communicate. The mandatory gift shop, overflowing with overpriced objet tenuously linked to the era (and an admittedly cheap selection of reprinted protest badges) only serves to heighten this impression.

‘You Say You Want A Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970’ is open at the V&A, London until 26 February 2017

Sarah Kingham is a London based artist, writer and academic. Trained in art history, theory, and fine art, she is currently engaged in a Masters in Cultural and Critical studies at Birkbeck University. 

An Interview with Rupert Jaeger

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Rupert Jaeger goes by many titles; artist, spokesperson, and most recently the man behind one of Hundred Years Gallery’s most recent exhibitions, Hostile Takeover. In ‘Hostile Takeover’, Jaeger tackled the topics of commercialism and consumerism, whilst also touching on concepts such as time travel and nostalgia.

In the lead up to his exhibition, Jaeger took to social media, posting obscure video footage and posing as a ‘nefarious financial spirit’ taking over Hundred Years Gallery in Hoxton. The playful way in which he cleverly incorporated the use of storytelling automatically grabbed my attention, and in particular his post on social media channels two weeks prior to his private viewing. (Shown below)

I am a nefarious financial spirit that has taken possession of the Hundred Years Gallery.

This Hostile Takeover is all-encompassing, entailing every physical, spiritual and other intangible aspect that constitutes the very existence of the Hundred Years Gallery.

I am now in possession of the gallery’s financial assets, define its legal structures and as of today have taken complete control of corporate communications, including all Social Media Channels.

Resistance is futile, yet rewards for engagement are plentiful.

Needless to say, the private viewing which fell on the 22nd of September was a huge success. Hundred Year’s Gallery’s Montse Gallego admitted defeat to the financial spirit, and his victory was celebrated throughout the night.

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(Photo from Hundred Years Gallery’s Facebook page)

Following his exhibition, I had a chat to Rupert about the central themes he discusses in his work, and to get a sense of what ‘Hostile Takeover’ was all about.

Q. What drew you to the art of story telling?
A. I consider my life, and life in general, a story. All I do is record what happens around me, and in that sense story telling is an integral part of my life.

Q. Describe Hostile Takeover in a sentence or two
A.
Hostile Takeover is a declaration of love to Capitalism.

Q. With social media websites like Facebook and Instagram reaching their peak of popularity, there seems to be a shift in the values of young people today. More often than not, it seems as though individuals are valuing an experience over consumer goods. As an artist who’s work often focuses on the theme of consumerism, do you personally believe we are seeing an increase or decrease in the need to spend money?
A. Growth is an inherent aspect of capitalism. The need to spend more and more money is a logical consequence of that. In principle, I don’t have a problem with the concept of consumerism or money. My artworks are my products, and if someone is willing to buy those, I see it as an appreciation of what I do. The problem in my opinion is that we have lost the ability to appreciate, let alone love our own products. This loss, ultimately, is being compensated for by attaching an artificial mathematical value to a product, without any real relation to the love that has – or should have – gone into the production of any given product.

Q. You previously worked as the Head of Communications at a global architecture firm. Do you think this has played into your work today as an artist? If so, how?
A.
Yes, my work as HoC at Design International had a huge impact on my work as an artist. In a nutshell, it brought out the antagonist in me. He is a crucial tool for my artistic ambitions. In practical terms, he is as an agent of strategy, and of course he is a key character in the wider story I am trying to tell.

Q. The ‘Antagonist’ and ‘Protagonist’ are recurring characters in your work. Did you always invision that they would play a role in many of your videos, and perhaps even contribute to your image as an artist?
A.
Both characters evolved somewhat organically over the last five years as part of  a series of projects I was undertaking, with the antagonist entering the scene only last year. I have always had ‘bigger plans’ for the characters, but during Hostile Takeover they took on a new meaning that I had not envisioned before. In that sense they have taken on a life of their own that is now beyond my control.

Q. And, for you, do they represent anything in particular?
A.
The Protagonist represents creativity, innocence and curiosity. He is the archetype of the artist, who explores ‘Forbidden Areas’, which most people would not dare to enter. He has the ability to travel in time and enjoys eternal life.
The Antagonist is the Protagonist’s nemesis, even though they ultimately work towards the same goal. He is a skilful navigator of structures that are measured solely in Zeros and Ones, yet he will enter forbidden areas only once the Protagonist has declared them safe. The Antagonist is the Grim Reaper.

To learn more about Rupert Jaeger’s work visit here and here.

Written by Sweet ‘Art’s Melina Payne

Frieze Week Recap by Melina Payne

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It was the biggest week in London’s cultural calendar, and you better believe the Sweet ‘Art team were (more than eagerly) hitting the streets. Yes folks, we’re talking about Frieze Week – a week dedicated to the thing we love the most – art.

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GUERRILLA GIRLS
Guerrilla Girls – Whitechapel Gallery

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Guerrilla Girls revisits their 1986 poster, ‘It’s Even Worse in Europe’

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In their latest exhibition, Guerrilla Girls explores diversity in the European art market (or lack there of)

 ACROSS THE FREE LAND
Across The Free Land by ZUMAR7 – Hundred Years Gallery

In his latest exhibition, ZUMAR7 works a lot with images found on flags and emblems of different countries, and does so in order to tell a story. ZUMAR7’s colourful drawings also explore themes of diversity and international togetherness.

Also included at Hundred Years’ private viewing was work from photographer, Mervyn Diese.

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(Above) By ZUMAR7

SUNDAY ART FAIR
Sunday Art Fair – Ambika

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(Above) By Vanessa Safavi

(Left)  ‘Ltd Los Angeles’ by Anja Salonen, (Right) By Chiara Camoni

THE OTHER ART FAIR
The Other Art Fair – Old Truman Brewery

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(Above) Sweet ‘Art’s very own Corrina and Charlotte

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(Above) Kristina S. William

MODERN PANIC

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JOHN LEE BIRD AT CARNESKYS FINISHING SCHOOL
John Lee Bird

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(Above) pieces by JLB

ARLIGHTON EXHIBITION
Arlington exhibition at Space Studios
Arlington is a multi purpose homeless hostel that hosts an exhibition of residents’ art works each year.  We were given this free art by Chris Bird!

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(Below) The voice of Arlington Zine

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HUMAN NATURE
Human Nature – espaciogallery

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(Above) ‘After Gericault’ by Patrick Blower, (Below) by Sima T Vassilieva

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CALVERT 22
Monumental Propaganda – Calvert 22

Donald Weber’s ‘Monumental Propaganda’ (2016) was a part of Calvert 22’s Power and Architecture series.  (As shown below) Soviet Lenin statues have been destroyed, leaving only empty plinths in their place, prompting ideas of what should replace Lenin.

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By Melina Payne (2016)

Turner Prize 2016 by Charlotte Elliston

In the lead up to Frieze week, I decided to go and check out the 2016 Turner Prize at Tate Britain. Having heard that for the first time, 3 of the artists in the running to win the prize were female, I was interested to check out the works on show.

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Another first for Tate was to allow photography in the exhibition. Someone clearly has seen the opportunities for social media within the exhibition, and realised the selfie potential from the works on display!

The first room presents the artist Helen Marten (who also has an exhibition on currently at the Serpentine I now want to see). Her sculptural works are assemblages of found and manipulated objects – a mixture of the domestic (cotton buds, eggs, money, fruit) and the esoteric (a shed snake-skin?). The blurb from Tate says each sculpture is meant to suggest a “workstation or terminal where some unknown human activity has been interrupted” but both the shapes and randomness of the collections in each piece reminded me more of an animal creating a den or home – the way a bird will collect items purely for shape and colour, with no knowledge or interest in their previous use.

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An aspect of Helen Marten’s work I did find curious, and which none of the reviews I’ve read mentioned, were the curious artist-made aspects of the work. In places, it was evident that metal and plastic had been worked by the artist to form shapes. The most obvious of these was in the first chrysalis-like sculpture formed of interlocking metal parts. Within this sculpture were shapes very reminiscent of a vagina dentata – imagine if Marnie Scarlet’s Vagball from SHE had teeth – this is how clear the reference seemed, to me at least, and yet no mention of this anywhere in the literature I have yet read.

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Next up was Anthea Hamilton’s work and yes, this is the most ‘grammable piece of work in the exhibition, with visitors posing in the ‘crack’ for photos. The piece Project for a Door (After Gaetano Pesce) was created from designs for a New York apartment door through which people would enter. It is possibly a comment on social housing – those of lower social status would have to enter via the rear, but here, in a gallery space, being photographed by affluent visitors, seems to lose any of this. Perhaps if visitors to the exhibition had been forced to actually walk through the doorway it may have been different.

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I preferred this piece of Hamilton’s work. A brick print suit set against a brick print wall. With references to surrealism, and hints of the nature of camouflage, I also felt it referenced ideas of invisibility, blending in, and the way clothes can enhance or deflect notice.

The third room was dedicated to Josephine Pryde, with a mainly photographic display. I had read the text handout on the artist before I entered the room and was excited by the sound of her new works created by Pryde, where she “placed objects on the back of the worktops, and then exposed them to sunlight in London, Athens, and Berlin” as I love a photogram, and was intrigued by the introduction of the domestic – expecting something similar to Běla Kolářová’s work  seen in Double Take earlier this year. I was quite disappointed in the actuality of the piece, where mostly vague shapes were seen on vague backgrounds. In one piece the artist had clearly imposed the word ‘Jo’ herself, and the most interesting of the series was the piece where a griddle had been placed a few times on the worktop, leaving a geometric design.

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The other half of the room was taken up by a scale model of a graffiti covered train, and photographs of hands interacting with objects. These were created to resemble advertising or fashion images but just arranged as to display hands at the point of touching an object – pine cone, lamp, etc. The most noticeable thing for me in these images was the large number of electronic devices chosen – phones and Ipads seemed to dominate. Perhaps this was even more noticeable now that everyone was photographing all of the works in the gallery (yes, I was one of them too!)

The final room led to Michael Dean’s installation. Entering the room, visitors had to negotiate bits of metal, cement chunks and debris which led round into the centre of the room. Bent metal poles and chains formed half-letters, possibly spelling out variants on the word SHORE, which was also present in stickers in the walls and papers on the floor. Hands and fists emerge from piles of rubble, as if trying to escape from a cave-in.

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In the centre of the floor is a huge pile of pennies. This is titled United Kingdom poverty line for two adults and two children: twenty thousand four hundred and thirty six pounds sterling as published on 1st September 2016 and is £20,436 in pennies. The government states that this is the minimum a family of 4 require to live on for a year. When installing the piece, Micheal Dean removed one penny, meaning that this family would now be below the poverty line. What strikes me most about this installation is how little the money looks. Although a large pile of pennies, I would image £20,000 worth of pennies to fill a swimming pool, not a few meters of a gallery floor. The installation as a whole seems more thoughtful, political and relevant to the current UK zeitgeist than the other three exhibiting artists. Whilst I loved Hannah Marten’s strange sculptures, I am rooting for Michael Dean to win.

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The Turner Prize is on until 2 January 2016 at Tate Britain

Helen Marten: Drunk Brown House is on until 20 November 2016 at the Serpentine

 

 

SHE: Sweet ‘Art Explores The Construct of Femininity

It’s not every day you approach a room full of art enthusiasts with a tray of breast and vagina shaped cupcakes in one hand, and marzipan tampons in another. However, this is exactly what was asked of me on the opening reception of Sweet ‘Art’s most recent pop-up exhibition. ‘SHE’, as it was appropriately titled, explored the themes of femininity, feminine identity, and issues faced by women locally and internationally. The exhibition worked as an international affair rallied by London’s Sweet ‘Art, which included the collaboration of galleries Pink Monster (Texas, USA) and Sao La (Saigon, Vietnam). Over the event’s two day period, replications of the same curated works were exhibited simultaneously at all three locations. SHE’s London location, or ‘SHE HQ’ if you will, was housed in a stunning two-story Victorian warehouse on Tanner Street, as a part of the Perform Gender Festival hosted by Ugly Duck. The building itself was a work of art, with wood panelled flooring and quirky strips of coloured flamingo wallpaper. Although not a classically feminine building, it had character, and worked as the perfect location to house the works of over 60 artists.

At its core, SHE explored the idea of what it means to be a woman. Whilst some artists chose to celebrate notions of femininity in our society, others critiqued them. Regardless, the exhibition undoubtedly felt like a safe space for women to express any and every one of their thoughts on the matter. Female sexuality and empowerment was perhaps one of the most prevalent topics of discussion. Many artists pieces worked to celebrate the female form (amongst other things) – those of which included Peter D’Alessandri’s ‘Arrangement on Red Carpet’ and Laura New’s ‘#Freethenipple’. In a world where there are so many restrictions and limitations on the female body, I’m not afraid to say that it was good to see a few dozen ‘free nipples’. Whether one was staring up at you from the ground (in the case of Seana Wilson’s boob pile – ‘Cairn O Mam’) or being shoved into your mouth covered in icing, there sure was a hell of a lot of them.

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Two pieces that I found quite extraordinary were Seana Wilson’s ‘Cairn O Mam’ and Marnie Scarlet’s ‘Vagball’. The two works, despite being completely different in shape and medium, had a strikingly similar effect on me. On one hand, Seana Wilson’s ‘Cairn O Mam’ consisted of 20-30 odd plaster cast ceramic breasts that were positioned in a somewhat neatly arranged pile on the ground of the venue. On the other hand, Marnie Scarlet’s ‘Vagball’ was a large inflatable vagina – imposing, strong and bold in colour. Both pieces begged to be acknowledged and unapologetically made female sexuality the topic of discussion – a topic that many people may automatically shy away from. They were clever in the way that they incorporated elements of surprise, curiosity and purpose. And, as a result, it was impossible to walk into a room without your focus automatically being drawn to these two pieces.

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2f1b49_f0879e6ed9b343ef9353396e290e069d-mv2_d_6331_4220_s_4_2(Above) Seana Wilson’s ‘Cairn O Mam’, (Below) Marnie Scarlet’s ‘Vagball’

Whilst a wide variety of themes explored by SHE artists felt all too familiar to me – such as gender based stereotypes and expectations, the pressure of beauty standards imposed on women, menstruation and contraception (the list goes on) – there were also other themes, like loss, that I could not yet fully comprehend. Deeply personal pieces like Deborah Griffin’s ‘Mothership Connection: artist, artist’s daughter, artist’s uterus’ truly struck a chord with me. Deborah explained that the uterus in her photo is in fact her own. The effort to which her and her family went to legally obtaining it and transporting it are extraordinary – everything from bike-riding through London with it carefully balancing it on the handlebars, to it unexpectedly not fitting in their fridge.

Many thanks to Deborah and her family for sharing their story with me.

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SHE, however, was not solely focused on themes involving women, but it was also greatly focused on international connections. The collaboration between galleries Pink Monster and Sao La also allowed for more minor collaborations to take place between solo artists. Here, 5 artists from the UK were selected by Sweet ‘Art and paired up with 5 artists from either Vietnam or the USA. The aim of the collaboration was for each pair to create an artwork across continents without ever meeting in person, in a celebration of international connectedness and difference. Although the artist’s often struggled to work around the time differences and constraints of technology based communication, the collaboration was ultimately a very rewarding experience, one that undoubtedly paid off. What I can say personally (as a facilitator of one of the collaborations) is that the experience of discussing different artistic styles and appreciating cultural differences allowed for, at least for me, a better understanding of the experiences of women on an international level, and art as a whole.

In conclusion, we are living in a tricky period of time where the change we as a society are demanding is not physically obtainable. It is no longer about passing new laws, but instead, about trying to change the way people think about things. Through new wave feminism and the current fight for civil rights, the only way in which we can provoke change is to educate ourselves and each other on matters of discrimination and inequality. Even in some small way, events like SHE help to do that.

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SHE successfully combined art, femininity, and international connectedness in an exhibition which was both inclusive and fun. Between the company and the free booze (cheers for that The Five Points Brewery) it was hard not to enjoy and genuinely appreciate what the exhibiting artist’s had to offer. Everything I’ve mentioned and more will be included in our soon to be released hard backed archive documentation of the entire SHE process.

Written by Sweet ‘Art’s Melina Payne