Approaching the one-year anniversary of WomANZ, I sat to talk with Mivaro, one of their core team members. We conversed about her upbringing in South Africa, her professional background, her love for art, and what it meant to join a community like WomANZ after suffering from online abuse.
An Information and Technology wizard, this energetic 27-year-old woman, started her IT career at the age of 18. Her plans of taking a gap year to au-pair in America, changed when she accepted a two-week job as a data analyst in Johannesburg. “They liked me a lot, so they decided to keep me and offered me an internship sort of thing, they paid for my studies and I worked with them for a year, I haven’t left IT since then,” she says.
Born in a changing South Africa during the 90s and 2000s, Mivaro and her twin sister were raised by a single mother. She remembers growing up in an unpredictable social atmosphere. “It does not matter what your gender is, what your race is, it’s an incredibly violent and volatile environment to grow up in,” she says.
Finding a job and a career, under those circumstances, are not easy tasks for anybody, particularly being a teenager while trying to support a recently unemployed mother at that time and a sister starting University. “In South Africa, if you get a job, you stick with it,” she says. “I was lucky enough to get one in IT, which helped me eventually come and stay in Australia, but originally I wanted to be an artist, I wanted to do art therapy and become a teacher”.
Mivaro’s professional career progressed pretty quickly after that. She worked for telecommunication companies, banks, small and large corporations. She also had several different positions that ranged from team lead to support. Her current role in Australia is full-time consultancy. “It’s a combination of all the things from my background, from support to Q&A, web-design, graphic design, marketing. I kind of juggle everything”.
Mivaro’s departure was very difficult for her mum, but it made their relationship stronger. A strained relationship with her sister slowly mended with time and distance. “My sister and I are so similar. We are both very stubborn, we needed that distance to realise that we actually love and need each other,” she says.
When talking about how she decided to cross the ocean towards Australia, I discovered that matters of the heart inspired the move. She relocated thanks to her ex-partner.
“The relationship didn’t work out, but Australia did,” she says. “As a South African, we don’t get many opportunities to leave the country, as soon as you see that there is another side of how the world functions, your motivation is survival, you don’t want to leave. Australia is my second home, I’ve been here for 5 years now, and there is no way I can ever imagine moving back, but I guess that my heart will always be in South Africa”.
Breathing Art – An emotional journey
When talking about art, Mivaro’s voice changes, lowering her guard immediately. It is very clear that her love-hate affair with art shaped all of her life. “I am so emotionally involved in art, it is like breathing for me. Art is everything that I always needed,” she says. Mivaro discovered that she had an eye for it when she was around 8 years old. She evokes drawing a piece for a school project where the kids were asked to look at a famous painting and reproduce it.
Little Mivaro decided to recreate The Weeping Woman by Picasso. “I got it back and I got an A+++, the teacher was fucking blown away,” she says cheerfully. Since then, drawing is that anchor that grounded her during the darkest times, a security blanket to fall back on when everything else fails. “I would not be the person that I am today without it, I don’t think I’d even be here today if wasn’t for art,” she says. “People don’t realize that the passion behind my art is because art has saved my fucking life.”
With all the emotions that creating art evokes in Mivaro, it is surprising to know, that she has a very methodical approach to drawing. She spends a countless number of hours researching for references and inspiration. Her style, like her personally, is constantly changing, evolving. She has a special proclivity for the human body and loves drawing women and faces. Her work is highly influenced by her experiences and emotional state. “If I am depressed, I draw hands, if I am on medication, I would just not draw colour, off the medication I will draw colour again,” she explains.
With so much passion and dedication, our Art conversation extended for a long period. Mivaro mentioned, that for now, it’s not in her plans to be dedicated full time to it, but that she would love to be able to do it at some point. We also discussed how to navigate through the art world and how-to self-value art pieces. “It’s so difficult to value your art, particularly if you are putting 20 hours into something, how do you put a price on that? Especially, for someone like me, that uses art as their therapy. How can I actually go and value my emotions and experiences behind that? I don’t think that there should be an expectation to do that. There is a lot of work that I will never sell, and I don’t want to value it because I did it for me, it is for myself.” she says.
Although, she acknowledges that the approach to art and value is completely different when she draws with the intent to give it to another person. “It’s a completely different mentality drawing something for yourself, than drawing for someone else. When I am drawing for someone else, I already made peace that it is not for me,” she says. Mivaro advises doing research before pricing commissions.
It is important to have multiple factors in mind like the time invested, materials, and resources needed to complete a piece. “You can value yourself superficially and put a price tag on that. For an artist, it is incredibly important to be humble but at the same time nurture your ego, so you are proud of what you are doing and that you are not ashamed of it”.
WomANZ – More than a Community Champion
With an already busy schedule, it is almost extraordinary that Mivaro finds the time to be the Community Champion for WomANZ. Behind the scenes, Miv, as she is known to her friends, is the first point of contact for potential members. “We ask for a certain number of things to validate the people, to protect the community. I review each and every single person that applies. I check their Twitter, Twitch, Instagram, all of that. After I send them either an approval or rejection message. I have a whole application process itself in place” she explains. Being a community Champion is something that she takes very seriously, she is involved with all the members, and tries to facilitate tools and resources. She is very passionate about finding ways to create a very interactive community. “We have, for example, movie night and try to play games together. Even if it is just hosting people’s streams, encouraging that behaviour and giving people kind of a home, away from home,” she says.
Mivaro is also in charge of all the social aspect of WomANZ and helps to manage the different teams, such as the Writers Team, Graphics, and the Moderation Team. She understands that one of the biggest responsibilities of being the Community Champion is to listen and give each member a platform where they can get involved. Equally important, she thinks that some individuals might have the wrong idea about the community. “Some people perceive WomANZ as a feminist group or that it is just a stream team. But as soon as they get involved, they see that it is completely different. What drives us at the end of the day, is the community,” she says.
It was impossible to ignore the contagious passion that Mivaro demonstrates when talking about WomANZ. Yet, her tone changed completely when I asked about the reasons that made her join the community. “I used to be involved in one of the gaming scenes in Australia. Because of my involvement in it, I endured quite a lot of abuse from people, over the phone, Snapchat, Twitter, Twitch, Instagram, Facebook,” she says. During that hard time, she didn’t have people to relate to and felt very lonely. Mivaro was not able to find resources to help her overcome the situation and that made her feel further secluded, “It is a very isolating thing to be a victim of online abuse. Because it happens over a length of time, I mean, I endured this whole abusive cycle for about 18 months, it controls you. So afraid to step out, you start accepting that abuse. The whole reason why I joined WomANZ was to find support from people and also try to support other women that were experiencing the same thing,” she says. The abuse ended when she removed herself from being online. “I stopped streaming, I locked up all my profiles,” she shares.
On the other hand, thanks to that experience she found a new purpose. “WomANZ is completely different than any other community I’ve been involved with. There is a lot of healing from those bad experiences because you are taking something so negative in your life and despite all of that, you lift and support each other,” she says.
Heart on the line – Giving it all and learning to delegate
With all this in mind it seems clear that Mivaro can get very stressed too. In her words, she is always trying to give 120% in all that she puts her heart into. However, forming a full team of women who are willing to help, made the biggest difference. She is learning to trust in her team. “I tell myself: It is OK if you are having a bad day. You don’t have to do everything; you don’t have to be superwoman. Nothing is going to fall apart if you are not completely involved in everything,” she says. “You look back and sometimes question why you put your whole heart on the line? and then, you see one interaction with two people on the community and you are: OMG, that is why. That makes all the work and all the hard days completely worth it.”
As we wound down our conversation, we reflected on the gaming scene in Australia. It is changing at a rapid pace, with new and exciting events like the GIRLGAMER Festival being hostel this coming June in Sydney. We noticed more female orientated communities that embrace and support different sectors of the industry. “We are not trying to exclude men in everything that they are doing. All that we are trying to do is uplift minority groups and give them the same opportunities” she says. For these reasons and many more, Mivaro thinks that is a very exciting and an interesting time to be a woman. “There is momentum, the climate is changing. Women are now realising that we need to support and reach to each other,” she says.
Finally, I asked her what advice would she give to her younger self if she could. “I’d tell Miv that it is ok to be weird and that people will find you funny. You are pretty fucking cool. Even though you are the weird kid, and you feel like an alien most of the time, you are going to grow up and people will think that’s awesome. They might tease you now, but keep fighting and be strong. Don’t care what people think of you, it doesn’t matter what people think of you. Care for what you can do for other people but don’t invest time into caring for people who can’t give back to you,” she says wisely.
Mivaro is thinking about streaming again. You may want to keep an eye on her channel for new and exciting streams and collaborations.