Kat Toronto aka Miss Meatface, “Pink Flamingos” (2022), featured in The “REBEL” Issue.

Kat Toronto, aka “Miss Meatface,” tackles contemporary femininity head on. Forced to reconsider her womanhood after a 2010 cervical cancer diagnosis and a subsequent full hysterectomy at 29, Kat turned to her family history and inner feminine expression to redefine herself and her creative process. A San Francisco Bay native, her performance-based photography confronts society’s objectification of women, toying with the dual concepts of dominance/submission and revelation/concealment. Kat invites viewers to explore the Meatface universe, a world of unnerving intrigue, through her work, which she executes between London and San Francisco. The Meatface persona both constructs and deconstructs what it means to be a woman in contemporary society.

After attending California College of the Arts for Photography and Textiles and then receiving her BFA in Fiber Art from Kansas City Art Institute in 2005, Kat first introduced the subversive world of Miss Meatface in 2014. Since 2018, she has been a mainstay in group shows at The Untitled Space gallery and has been featured in a number of solo shows, including “MISS MEATFACE” in 2019 and “PEEP SHOW” the following year.

Her latest collaboration with the gallery, the “SPRING INTO ACTION” benefit art auction, features more than 50 Miss Meatface photographs and is live from April 20 until April 30, 2023.

Kat Toronto aka Miss Meatface, “Meat Doll Party” (2022).

What inspired your moniker, “Miss Meatface”?

“Miss Meatface” came about around mid-2014, a year after I’d undergone a hysterectomy. I was also in an incredibly unhappy relationship at the time, so I began taking photographic self-portraits that reflected how I felt inside: emotionally battered and bruised. I took up the art of special effects make-up and gave myself black eyes, bloody noses, and gaping wounds on my face, and I used all these outward signs of domestic violence to make a visual statement about how I felt on the inside. 

Which other artists or creatives have inspired your journey? 

When I was a child, my father would take me to photography exhibitions and museums, and through these trips, I was introduced to the work of Cindy Sherman, Diane Arbus, and Claude Cahun. They were my first introduction to self-portraiture, and they left a huge mark on my creative consciousness. Later on, in my teens and early twenties, I was introduced to the work of Pierre Molinier and Joel-Peter Witkin, the fetish photography and illustrations of John Willie and his magazine, Bizarre, and then more recently, in my thirties, I discovered John Sutcliffe and AtomAge magazine.

Why did you decide to pursue self-portraiture? 

I took my first photography class in college and from the very beginning, I was attracted to self-portraiture. I can’t specifically put my finger on exactly why I was so drawn to it in particular, but something immediately clicked within me, and it just made sense that I would focus on self-portraiture. I could create my own fantastical fictional narratives within the photographs, and this both excited and fascinated me. 

How did your cervical cancer diagnosis in 2010 affect your artwork and process?

After the surgery, I’d been left feeling totally alienated from my own body. I was overwhelmed, confused, angry, and depressed. But it was these deep, dark feelings that led me to begin asking questions that sparked something and eventually led me to delve into my feelings about my sexuality, my body, and how they affect how I interact with the world around me. It forced me to reevaluate my life and whether I was happy. I was working a 40-hour-a-week job and then coming home and devoting what little time I had left to my creative endeavors. I was also stuck in a very unhappy relationship. I came to the conclusion that this wasn’t the life that I wanted and that something needed to change. In order to be happy, I needed to be able to focus on my creativity first and foremost, not be stuck in a depressing, dead-end job and an unhappy marriage. I began to focus on how I was going to pursue a life based around nurturing my creativity and happiness. This led me to pick up a camera again and rekindle my lifelong love affair with photography.

Kat Toronto aka Miss Meatface, “Talking Heads” (2022).

You’ve described your persona as a “catalyst to delve into a complex set of questions about being a woman in society.” What does being a woman mean to you?

Since the start of my Miss Meatface journey, I’ve come to realize that for me, the exploration of what it means to be a woman has nothing to do with biological anatomy, but of my own psychological feelings and experiences of femininity and my family history. By learning more about my ancestors and incorporating little bits and pieces of their lives and legacies into Miss Meatface, I find that I am putting small bits and pieces of my own personal puzzle together, slowly creating a more whole vision of who I am as a woman in this world. 

Can you tell us about some of your trademarks as an artist and how you developed them?

When most people think of Miss Meatface, they immediately think of the masks she wears. Back when Miss Meatface first began, I felt drawn to masks because they gave me a way to visually remove my own identity as Kat Toronto and become a blank canvas – or in some cases, turn myself into a doll, my grandmother, or an otherworldly being. The use of latex in the mask allowed me to bring the fetish aesthetic into her look. The mask allows me to transcend the black-and-white world of male/female and become something wholly different and new. I began using a cat’s eye mask on top of the latex one as a nod to my great-grandmother, Rubie. When I first began shooting Miss Meatface, I found an old black-and-white photograph that my dad took in the early 1970s of her, and in it she is wearing a cat’s-eye mask from Halloween. This image stuck in my head, so when I stumbled upon some vintage-style cat’s-eye masks in a costume shop a little while later, I thought I would try and use them over my latex mask in a shoot. I ended up loving the look, so I’ve used them ever since, and they’ve become a part of the Miss Meatface trademark look. 

Artwork by Kat Toronto aka Miss Meatface, The Untitled Space, New York

What is your process of creating a Miss Meatface self-portrait?

The concept for a Meatface shoot begins with a piece of inspiration – quite often, it’s a vintage clothing ensemble or a bit of vintage kitsch that I found while thrift shopping. Sometimes, it’s a specific location that I stumbled upon. I then build a shoot around that object or place. The time it takes to set up a Meatface shoot varies. Sometimes, an elaborate shoot will take days to prepare ahead of time. Other times, I can set up and shoot in a matter of hours.

What draws you to the concepts of domination and submission?

The idea of being able to let go and give yourself over to someone else completely and lose yourself in a supportive, playful, and sensual environment is what attracted me to BDSM and fetish culture. I love utilizing Miss Meatface as a deliciously fun way to explore this power play. It also often flips societal gender stereotypes on their head, with the female being the one with power and control. All of this fascinated and attracted me.

How does gender play a role in the way you create art or concepts? 

Within my Meatface work, I enjoy toying with and challenging stereotypical gender roles, which also goes back to the push and pull of dominance and submission. I enjoy turning the things society might consider masculine and feminine on their heads, hopefully sparking questions and conversations that lead people to ask larger questions about themselves and society as a whole. 

How does your art embody rebellion?

My art rebels through the way Miss Meatface challenges gender stereotypes and views on sexuality and BDSM/fetish culture. I create imagery that forces people to look beyond their preconceived notions of what they might consider “normal.” 

Kat Toronto aka Miss Meatface, “Palm Room” (2022)

How was the transition of moving from the US to the UK? Do you find that your new home impacts your artwork?

I found the transition quite easy, but it probably helps that I was enthusiastic about moving to the UK in the first place. That being said, I love both the US and the UK equally, and I get excited about incorporating different cultural quirks from each into Meatface shoots. I became obsessed with tea when I first moved to the UK, and that carried over into my Meatface work. There is a wonderful sense of kitsch and chintz to both countries that lends itself perfectly to the Miss Meatface universe. 

What is next for Miss Meatface? Are there any exhibitions or projects that we can expect from you soon?

Yes! There are quite a few exhibitions coming up that Miss Meatface will be a part of, the first being an abortion rights art auction organized by Art4Equality and Indira Cesarine. This is a cause of great importance to me, especially at this point in time where the right to abortion in the United States finds itself in such great peril. I’m thrilled to have some work in the “REBEL” Exhibition at The Untitled Space gallery in NYC, and will be featured in an online solo auction with The Untitled Space this Spring 2023. I am also working on a brand new body of Miss Meatface work using a new photographic medium, vintage 110 film cameras, which I cannot wait to share with the world in the coming months.

To read our print feature on Kat Toronto aka Miss Meatface, pick up your copy of The “REBEL” Issue here.

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