WOMAN OF INTEREST: Indira Cesarine of The Untitled Space

“There is a need to reweave our nation’s social fabric as it is being torn.” This is Linda Friedman Schmidt’s poignant appraisal of Trump’s America. Schmidt is one of 80 female visual artists taking part in UPRISE/ANGRY WOMEN, an exhibition at Tribeca’s The Untitled Space gallery this Tuesday, just in time for the Inauguration – and nationwide marches of resistance. The exhibit will run until January 28th, and will showcase the work of artists from all over the country.

Just two months ago, enraged and stupefied by the outcome of November’s Presidential Election, artist and founder of The Untitled Magazine and Space Indira Cesarine rallied her fellow creative women to action. On The Untitled’s website Cesarine invoked artists to submit topical work embodying their post election fear, devastation, and outrage…it was an open call for artistic activism.

“The 2016 election has brought to the surface extremes of sexism, racism and discrimination,”Cesarine wrote. “A dark cloud looms over those who respect ideals of equal rights, human dignity and humanitarianism…Artists are encouraged to empower themselves and others with works for the “Angry Women” exhibit that responds to the political and social climate as well as explore themes revolving around feminism today and female empowerment.”

UPRISE/ANGRY WOMEN will feature works by new and established contemporary artists, including pieces by Rose McGowan, Jennifer Dwyer, Kristen Williams, Haile Bins, Boo Lynn Walsh, and Cara DeAngelis, to name but a few.

Additionally, the exhibit has partnered with the ERA Coalition – the organization working to pass and ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in our Constitution. The Untitled Space will donate 25% of all proceeds from the exhibit to further their initiative.

I sat down with Cesarine at her gallery to discuss feminist art, a woman’s right to choose, and the importance of solidarity.

Audiofemme: What was the impetus for UPRISE/ANGRY WOMEN?

Indira Cesarine: I think that every woman with any level of integrity, who has any concern with human rights and progression and the importance of diversity and equality – a lot of those people are really shocked by the outcome of the election. I think it was a wake up call to a lot of people. Right now our human rights are being put up in question, and the idea that you can take those as a given is no longer a fact.

I thought this was a great opportunity to shed light on how woman are feeling today, through the work of female visual artists, and not only address how women are feeling about the election, but about the future of women’s rights, about the challenges that women face, and the importance of solidarity.

This is the first exhibit at the gallery that is open to submissions. We had over 400 artists submit over 1,800 works of art.

Originally the show was going to be twenty artists, and I’ve decided to extend it to 80 artists, just one work of art per artist, that way we can have as many different women in the show as possible. The work is so unique and has so much passion. Quite a few works are unique pieces that have been made just for the show, while others were made while the election was going on or in the past year when everything was reaching blood-boiling temperatures.

What is your biggest fear in regards to women’s rights given the current political climate?

One of the biggest issues is [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][Trump’s] determination to roll back women’s rights with regards to abortion, and I think this is one of the most dangerous and potentially horrific things that could happen to women today. I strongly believe that no one should be able to tell a woman whether or not she’s allowed to make decisions with regards to her body…particularly when it comes to the early trimesters of pregnancy.

They just passed in Ohio, a ban on abortions after twenty weeks, and in many states they’re trying to close the gap of when you can have an abortion. But the problem with that is that you can’t even get a lot of the testing for disease and various things that might go wrong in your pregnancy. Like the Zika virus; you have to be further along to be tested for things like that. It’s one of those issues where there are a lot of women that may have been raped, and, just the amount of women who can’t afford to have kids, that may be stuck in the middle of this political war over whether the government should be allowed to dictate these sort of things. I don’t think the government should have anything to do with it.

For me, it’s also a really personal issue, because my grandmother died of an abortion. My mother was eleven when my grandmother died. Her mother had already had several children. She was married to a very abusive man. This was at a time when there was nothing you could really do if you had an abusive husband, there was no legal recourse to do anything for domestic violence, and she got pregnant again.

She finds out she’s pregnant with her fifth child, they’re dirt poor, she cannot afford it…she physically and mentally was not capable of having another child. So she sought out an abortion on her own and died of blood poisoning. She was rushed to the hospital and nobody would help her.

When you look at those circumstances – I really think that could potentially happen today if we revert back to the coat hanger tactics where women have to go to back alleys to get abortions.

This whole pro-life thing, well whose life are supporting here? What about the women who are living and breathing right now on this planet? These basic human rights that people take for granted – at the end of the day that is all potentially going to be pulled out from underneath us, if [Trump] gets his way. I think it’s all a big tactic of reverting women back into the home, being barefoot and pregnant and taking away the progress we’ve made.

"Our Bodies Our Choice" by Kelly Witte
“Our Bodies Our Choice” by Kelly Witte

It’s absurd because people think that if you make something illegal it goes away, but it’s like Prohibition: it doesn’t go away. Women don’t stop getting abortions…they just get worse abortions.


You’ve formed an alliance with the ERA Coalition for this show; can you talk about the importance of their work?

The ERA Coalition was founded by Jessica Neuwirth, and they have an incredible board of directors which includes Gloria Steinem and a lot of important feminist activists. They’ve recently worked with Patricia Arquette, Jane Fonda and a lot of phenomenal women who are all very vocal about the importance of having an Equal Rights Amendment in the Constitution. I think it’s incredible that in 2017 we still don’t have an Equal Rights Amendment in the Constitution. A lot of people think that it’s in the Constitution, but it’s not. There are all kinds of sex discrimination issues that are in various laws and elements of our system, but when it comes down to making it to the Supreme Court, there is nothing in our Constitution that says that you can’t discriminate against women. Sex discrimination happens on a daily basis to women all over the country, and there’s very little you can do about it.

It’s up to interpretation state-by-state.

Exactly! I think that it’s very important for the ERA to be revisited and that there be a movement for it to be included in the constitution. Many years ago it was three states short of being ratified, but largely in part to this woman Phyllis Schlafly, who insisted that, ‘if there’s an ERA amendment, we’re going to have to use co-ed bathrooms and women might lose some of the rights they have as housewives, and gay men might be able to get married!’ But, guess what? All those things are commonplace now. The ERA amendment never passed because they created this fear campaign that ‘women might have to use co-ed bathrooms and they could get raped,’ and as a result, a lot of women got scared and voted against it. It’s fascinating that it was a woman who created the fear campaign against the ERA amendment, and I hope that it does have a possibility to be reconsidered.

I read in an interview that when you originally became an artist you didn’t initially gravitate towards activism; that it was something you later came to. Was there some kind of catalyst in your experiences that made you think, ‘I have to take action’?

It’s really interesting you ask that. I went to school at Columbia University and I got a triple major in art history, French literature and women’s studies. I was actively working as an artist – painting, printmaking, photography – all kinds of things before I started my path as a professional photographer. I was incredibly active when it came to feminism and women’s rights issues when I was in high school and in college, but with my photography I got steered into working as a fashion photographer. I had all these incredible opportunities that happened to me when I was so young, that diverted my attention away from my artwork and from feminism. As a commercial photographer I tried to create empowering images of women, but often the work gets diluted by the time it is published in the magazines. They edit the photos and definitely the message is lost.

Although I was one of the few female fashion photographers out there when I started in the early 90’s, so in many respects I was a pioneer of sorts as a woman in a male dominated industry. It wasn’t until many years later, after I launched my own magazine, and stopped working freelance, that my interests really shifted back to my art and interest in feminism as an important aspect of my life. I think that when I started working on the GirlPower issue of The Untitled Magazine, which was an entire issue dedicated to feminism produced exclusively by creative women. I think that was a turning point for me for sure. I launched The Untitled Space gallery that same year, which focuses on Women in Art.

Artwork featured in the UPRISE: ANGRY WOMEN exhibit, left to right, Ingrid V. Wells, Annika Connor, Lili White
Artwork featured in the UPRISE: ANGRY WOMEN exhibit, left to right, Ingrid V. Wells, Annika Connor, Lili White

How has working so many years in the fashion industry – a microcosm often accused of abetting the objectification of women – altered your perception of how society treats women? Has it informed your approach to feminism?

For many years when I was working as a fashion photographer I didn’t even tell people I was a feminist, as the fashion industry didn’t really align with feminism. It was treated like a bad word for a long time. I think that has changed now as they have seen the younger generation take a vast interest in the subject and it became “trendy” to be a feminist. For the most part I don’t really think the fashion industry (or the modeling industry) really promotes feminism with the general focus being so much on looks. Some designers are incorporating body positive fashion and there is a push for plus sized fashion in the past few years but I think we have a long way to go.

Are there any artists in the show you are particularly excited about?

We received artwork from artists all over the country, and they each brought a different message to the exhibit. I was extremely impressed with the diversity in the artwork, and the artist statements. We had such a varied response – from anger to fear, sadness, and humor. Some of the artwork is very serious, with a dark ominous undertone, while other artists created very powerful satirical works that have an enormous amount of strength in the message behind the humor. We have artwork from emerging seventeen-year-old artists, to very established artists who have exhibited in major museums. Rose McGowan created a very dynamic video art piece called “WOMANSWOMB”.

"Donald Trump with a Crown of Roadkill" by Cara Deangelis
“Donald Trump with a Crown of Roadkill” by Cara DeAngelis

With exhibits you’ve done like Self Reflection and In The Raw, there was a huge focus on women reclaiming their image from the male gaze; how will UPRISE differ from past exhibitions?

Previous exhibits have had that element, but I think that this particular exhibit is very political in nature. I think that previous exhibits here were very focused on themes revolving around feminism and, like you said, reclaiming the female body. But this particular show is probably one of the most emotionally engaging exhibits. This is probably the most diverse exhibit we’ve done.

I definitely think that the undertone of the female voice as a roar is very powerful throughout all of our exhibits, and it’s my mission to make feminist art as a genre more accessible and viable in the art market, but I also felt that this show meant a lot to women who were grappling with their emotions and trying to figure out how to handle it, and how could they in some way have a positive impact. How could they inspire and empower other women to be the strong voices that we need right now to combat what we have ahead? We need to put our combat boots on.

The idea of anger is really motivating, and it’s a good thing to hear because I think people shy away from it too much.

Oh, so many people said, “do you have to call it Angry Women?” I’m playing on the stereotype of women being angry as being bad; that women have to smile all the time, be pretty, be nice to everyone; that women can’t have a stern, distinctive point of view, strong voice; that they’re not allowed to be leaders in their community or the workforce, because what happens when you have a female boss, if she’s remotely strong, everybody says she’s a bitch. Men don’t get treated that way; it’s a total double standard. I think that’s one of the biggest things holding women back. That systematic attitude that a powerful woman is angry…there’s something wrong with that.

I couldn’t agree more. I think the whole idea of just being ‘positive’ and not speaking up is such a subjugating tactic.

Of course. I think that it’s important to channel your anger in a positive way so that you can empower yourself and empower others while you’re at it.

I was thinking of the exhibition when I saw Madonna’s speech at the Billboard Women In Music Awards; what did you think of it?

I thought it was very powerful, we wrote about it in Untitled, I thought it was great. I think she said some very powerful things about the stereotyping and discrimination she faced being a female in music. I think that it is important for women to speak up and be honest on these subjects and it was a brave thing for her to do.

Within the music industry, many feminist musicians take issue with language like “Front-woman” or “Female Musician.” How do you feel that nomenclature exists within the art world? Is saying “Female Artist” empowering or limiting to you?

I know a lot of female artists who feel their gender has nothing to do with their work, and for many it’s not relevant. I think when it comes to feminist art as a genre, your work is revolving around your gender as a focus, so it’s a different story. I personally have no problem putting “female artist” in front of my name, I’m proud to be a woman and for me personally it’s something that is relevant to my work.

UPRISE/ANGRY WOMEN opens Tuesday, January 17th at The Untitled Space gallery, 45 Lispenard St, NY.

"PRotest" by Indira Cesarine
“PROTEST” by Indira Cesarine

VIDEO PREMIERE: Snow Angel “Trampoline of Emotion”

snow angel

Thank fucking goddess it’s Friday. It’s been a hellish month, yet rising above the heated political climate are women helping women. California-based Snow Angel are here to sprinkle their magic into the girl power fire with their latest single “Trampoline of Emotion,” off their upcoming first full-length out this fall. Celebrating the importance of friendship, and crucially, the complicated truth of being yourself, “Trampoline of Emotion” is an anthem for anyone who needs a reminder that they are powerful.

“‘Trampoline of Emotion’ jumps with introspective joy into the realm of the emotional self,” says front-woman Gabby La La. “As human beings, we experience intense extremes which are in our nature to feel. Insecurity, pain, loss, love, compassion, defeat… no one is perfect, but that’s exactly what makes being human so unique – those sparks seem to hold all of the power in the universe!”

The whimsical and catchy dose of self-love features the five women in a variety of Snapchat-ready scenarios that will have you dialing up your besties ready to finally get out of the post-election fetal position, and accept that things are difficult right now, but the most important action is to take care of yourself and your friends. “I wanted this song to express acceptance of these fluctuations within myself and others. It’s OK to be moody, or freak out!” says Gabby, who also plays the upright electric sitar. “It’s all part of what makes finding balance so difficult and so rewarding. As a community and in our case, a band, it is important to be there for one another and act as a guide in leading each other down the yellow brick road and back to that place that feels like home.”

Watch “Trampoline of Emotion” below, and try to have some fun tonight.


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Photo by: Wendy Figueroa
Photo by: Wendy Figueroa

We’re big fans of Kiran Gandhi, aka Madame Gandhi, over here at AudioFemme. Between her globally-recognized activism, including free-bleeding as she ran the London Marathon last year for period awareness, playing benefits such as Fuck Rape Culture, and doing everything in her power to make the world a better place for young women, she is an endless source of inspiration in an often cynical industry.

On top of all that, Gandhi has somehow managed to commence a killer musical project in there to boot. Madame Gandhi melds her eclectic drum style with synths, looped melodies, and delicious licks of piano, flute, bass, or whatever she feels tickled by at the moment.

Fortunately, Gandhi doesn’t have to compartmentalize her passions, as she sees each discipline flowing into and informing the next. Her Harvard education helps her approach the world of activism more strategically; her music helps give color and voice to the political issues most dear to her, and her proximity to forward-thinking musicians allows her to lead a life that is constantly inspired.

I met up with Gandhi for a coffee earlier this month, to chat about her love of the drums, her upcoming musical projects, and the eternal wisdom of Spiderman.

Audiofemme: What inspires you? What moves you to write music and what do you hope to achieve with the project?

Kiran Gandhi: When I watch other people whose music I like the best, they make it look so effortless, and I think something that’s effortless comes from a really pure place; from a place that’s existed the longest, so it can’t be faked. When I watch artists who are doing so well right now because of that effortlessness, artists like Drake, Kalela, Tuneyards, Alt J… some of my biggest influences are those who really make their music so effortless.

…You’re there, your’e just moving through the song quickly, you know what needs to go where and it’s coming from this very pure place. So, in terms of the actual music creation process and what inspires me, it’s when I feel like my most authentic self is being represented with music.

And then in terms of my message, of course, my message is to make the world a better place for young women. To empower, to elevate and celebrate the female voice. I do really think that we live in a world where young people – young women especially – are taught that their value comes from their looks, and I want young people’s value to come from wherever they choose for it to come, in the same way boys are encouraged: “Oh, you want to be a carpenter? Ok, go be the best carpenter.” Or, “Yo, you wanna be a drummer? Go be the best drummer.”

I still think girls are taught: “Ok, you can be a drummer, but make sure you look hot while doing it,” and that can be distracting. We only have 24 hours in a day. Imagine if three-four hours have to be used to make sure that you have makeup on and you’re skinny. It takes away from our passion.

Can you talk about your relationship with the drums? What do you hope to inspire in future drummers, male or female?

With the drums, a lot of times because it’s not a melodic instrument, it doesn’t have a,b,c,d,e,f,g, we all think that the drums are just to provide a beat for somebody else to shine and that it’s a very personality-less instrument. But actually the drums are the oldest instrument of all time! And the instrument that has changed the least in the history of the world. Imagine; the drums we have today, which is just a skin stretched over a cylinder is exactly how drums were made hundreds of thousands of years ago. It’s the language of communication. And for that reason, my goal is to inspire other people, all genders, to find their voice on the drums, and that there’s no right or wrong answer when you’re playing an instrument.

When I sit at the drums, I mount things differently, I sometimes put the ride on the left side of my kit, even though traditionally it’s always supposed be on the right side. I’ll mount cowbells, I’ll mount bongos…I bought a bunch of drums from India and I inverted them sideways and put them on American snare drum mounts, and that’s actually part of why I got the gig with M.I.A., because my kit was so eclectic and drew from my own inspirations.

So, what makes me happy about the drums is that it’s been this huge tool for self-expression, it’s a place of comfort, a place of power, a place of control.

I also heard that Zildjian is the oldest company in the world.

That would make sense. The Istanbul families in general were the first to make the best cymbals. Right now I’m sponsored by Istanbul Agop. They’re just a phenomenal, phenomenal brand, they take care of their artists. Their cymbals sound like little fairies. Their L.A. distribution center is like three blocks from my house, so I go and visit them a lot.

I’d love for you to talk about your entrée into the world of feminism.

I think, informally, when I was really young, I used to gravitate toward male characters because I thought they were cooler. Like, Aladdin was on the carpet, you know? And Jasmine was always the object, things were done to her. And even in women’s history, the way male stories are told, they’re very in control of their own destiny. Whereas, any time female stories are told, they’re always the object of somebody else’s story.

In Hollywood, and most sitcoms, time and time again you see that the girl is the sidepiece or she’s the victim in his larger story, or in order for him to prove himself to be the hero he rescues the girl from the villain, and she’s never in control of her own story, which is not a reality. We as women are not objects of other people’s lives. We have our own narratives and our own stories.

My entry point into feminism was really identifying this intuitively at a young age. I didn’t have the vocabulary to explain what was wrong, but my feminism came from a very earnest place of being four or five years old and identifying with the male characters and not the female characters.

How do you feel “Fuck Rape Culture” went? What was it like working with Grlcvlt?

I loved working with Grlcvlt. I loved feeling this positive nostalgia from the ‘90s where there was a lot of organization around women’s rights. I felt happy to be in 2016 seeing young women organize around women’s issues to take care of each other. It was good that we had so many powerful women performing and singing. I thought what was missing and what I tried my best to bring to the table was more people on the mic speaking about what it actually means to live in a rape culture. And, where the actual problems lie, and what some of the solutions are to put forward to make the world better.

Systemic problems.

Systemic. What are the systemic problems? Why is this currently an issue? What does it actually look like to be sexually assaulted? I think people imagine someone beating somebody, or someone pinning someone down against their will and forcing themselves on the victim. Most rape cases don’t actually look like that… it’s far more subtle, and that’s why they get overlooked, because we do live in a society that privileges men, and so when things are nebulous we will air on the side of the assailant as opposed to the side of the victim.

I think my only criticism of the event was that I wanted more people on the mic who were either experts in their field when it comes to this topic, or have experienced types of sexual assault themselves and speak freely about this. I obviously had a lot of respect for Rose McGowan for getting on the mic and being so vulnerable in such a public space with so much press in the room, but I was hoping there would be more talk about these events that I could also be learning something.

I’ve heard you speak a lot about how you’ve applied your classic business education to music and the music industry and how you advise the music industry. How do you apply that same education to activism?

One of the most effective forms of silencing the voice of activists is to say that they’re just “being radical.” They’re not “intelligent. They’re not being strategic. They’re not being helpful. They’re just rebels to society. They’re causing problems with the status quo and not actually doing anything.” That’s how people have undermined most activist movements since the dawn of time, whether it’s Occupy Wall Street or Black Lives Matter.

Using my degree helps in two ways:

One, is that for better or for worse, having a degree that’s rooted in certifiable academia and intelligence gives me this credibility that when I say something people maybe give it a second listen.

And secondly, it prevents them from undermining my work and the people who I work with as being radicals and instead they give it perhaps more attention than they might. And because I’m so aware of this dynamic, I very intentionally try to be more strategic, try to choose which lever I’m pulling at different times, whether it’s the radical activism or more academic piece of paper or a speech. When I’m choosing which audience I want to influence.

Coming out of HBS [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][Harvard Business School] specifically, they really teach you how to have a voice, how to clearly articulate your thoughts and viewpoint and why you believe one thing is right over the other thing. That’s been so helpful when trying to speak about gender equality because the more you can appeal to someone’s empathy and intelligence when it comes to a political issue, the more successful you’ll be.

It’s like a classical Greek debate; there’s Logos, Pathos, Ethos…

That’s it!!! Yes, exactly.

I’m talking a lot about activism but I think it’s something that makes you very special as an artist-

Thank you.

Could you talk about the importance of artists talking about ethical issues, and what you think the role art plays in activism is?

My thought on that is twofold. The first is that even when I was young I was far more influenced by art and MTV and watching music videos than I was by listening to a political speech. Probably because I didn’t understand the political speech, or I thought it was boring or not visually engaging. And so, artists have such a power because they influence their communities subliminally, and they influence with their visuals, with the emotions, which set into someone’s psyche far more powerfully than a superficial conversation or a talk.

Secondly, art lives so many lightyears beyond where society is. It usually represents where we’re going, because the artists are the forward-thinkers. And, in being the forward-thinkers, they have this power. People take politicians and lawmakers more seriously than they take artists, and I always find that so ironic because in reducing, in thinking that artists are just artists and they’re not that important and not that powerful or influential, you actually give artists more power because they have more free reign to say whatever without being as censored as politicians and lawmakers are.

So then they actually influence far more quickly than politicians and lawmakers. It’s this duality that works in art’s favor. And then, to quote Spiderman: “with great power comes great responsibility.” So, to this day I always feel brokenhearted that the majority of what’s there on the airwaves is very denigrating to women, and does put women in an objectified position as opposed to a wonderful and upheld position.

I want to use my art and the power that comes with it, to offset that and to tell authentic and empowering stories about women that I know.

What’s up next for you? Are you currently putting a full-length album together?

I’m waiting to release my EP, which will be out this year sometime. After that I’ll be working on a full-length album with different collaborators who are in my life who inspire me. I think one of the fun things about being an artist is that sometimes you make one-off pieces of music. Like last night I was in the studio until 3 a.m. in Brooklyn and I made this really fucking cool song…just inspired music. It felt really good to make it, so when I make things like this, I think they’re the kind of thing that I’ll just do one-offs. I was there on the Ableton push just making a bunch of different drum beats and drum rhythms, kind of almost live DJing with drums. And then, adding in bass lines and then a friend jumped in and he added in this really jazz piano riff, and then I did vocals and we sampled vocals and I really want to finish that song.

When you’re an artist, there are songs that are right for the album-to be considered in a complete body of work that have a theme. And then there are other songs that are just moments of inspiration, with no organization to them whatsoever but they still sound beautiful and I wanna put some of those out to keep the fans interested.


TRACK OF THE WEEK: Wolkoff “Going Back”


Joanie Wolkoff, former vocalist of Her Habits (and my forever crush) has moved onto something new and isn’t going back. She recently released “Going Back,” the first single from her new project, named straight to the point – Wolkoff. If Her Habits was a persona, from the name alone I’m excited to fall in love with the person.

Putting aside all music blog jargon – I love this song. Like, listen on repeat love it, play it on a rooftop in the summer love it, put it on my sex play list love it, cry in the shower love it. “Of the lies you told when you kept me down now I’m building speed just cant turn around…Not going back again.” It breaks my heart to hear about anyone hurting the goddess that is Joanie, but dear girl, your artistic expression of pain (with a triumphant ‘tude) is musically pure pleasure. It’s slowed-down synth pop that hits the soul, something pop music rarely achieves, but when it does it’s enough to make you dizzy.

Wolkoff is finishing up her new EP, a collaboration with producer Icarus Moth that we can expect to see out in late August.

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