WOMAN OF INTEREST: Photographer Melissa Kobe + Poet Sarah Suzor

Humanity’s relationship to nature is a complicated one. Too often, people make the mistake of seeing themselves as masters, taming the earth inch by inch; in reality, the earth is quick to respond and fight back. Cracks in the sidewalk reveal grass gasping for breath, abandoned homes from the recession quickly fill with animals looking for shelter. The truth is we are symbiotic. Photographer Melissa Kobe and Poet Sarah Suzor explore our give and take relationship with earth in Am I Surrounding You?, a collaborative art book they debuted at Los Angeles’ Keystone Art Space Spring Open Studios last month.

To start, I’d love a little backstory on each of you. When did you decide to take up each medium as your profession?

Sarah: I was always writing. I went to college for journalism, moved to L.A. and worked for a local Los Angeles luxury magazine. After writing about $4,000 spoons for a year, I wanted to try my hand at a more creative (and rewarding) career. So, I started writing and publishing poetry. After that, I wanted to help everyone do the same with their writing (poetry, fiction, non-fiction), so I created my own company INK, LLC, and dove into helping my clients get their writing published.

Melissa: I’ve always been obsessed with imagery. I felt the enormity and the power of it as a kid sitting in Catholic mass, just looking at all the super dreary images of almost all white men. Being surrounded by those images just felt so heavy and unsettling. That was definitely the darker side. The lighter side was movies – seeing how people tell stories with pictures always resonated with me, I think, because I wasn’t the best at communicating with words.  I still don’t think I am, but I’ve gotten better as I get older. I really first picked up a camera in Junior High when I was the editor of the year book. From then I always did it as a hobby, but didn’t decide to try and do photography as a profession until I was an adult.

Melissa, can you tell us about the intention behind this photography series, before you brought Sarah into the fold?

Melissa: It’s so weird because the whole thing unfolded out of nothing.  I read in Westways about this beach in San Diego where these sharks laid their eggs. There’s a couple week period where they all hatch and you can go snorkeling with hundreds of sharks. I wanted to do it so bad! I rented a go-pro and went down there to find not one fucking shark. I was so bummed I didn’t even look at the pictures for like six months.  When I finally did, I thought they were really cool and started looking at them in a different perspective of hope, fear and disappointment… All things that didn’t really show themselves in the photos. Sarah and I had been talking for years about hooking up on a project together, so I reached out to her to see if she wanted to look at them and write something, interpreting them her own way. That’s where it all started. After it was over we both had such a great experience with the whole thing, we decided to keep it going.

How did the two of you meet?

Sarah: Melissa was working at the 50s Cafe on Santa Monica Blvd, and my ex boyfriend’s twin brother would frequent the Cafe all the time. The twins had a band; he asked Melissa to photograph their gigs. I met Melissa at Big Foot West, I believe, and we got along so well instantly. That was 12 years ago. I kept her, and the boy, he’s an ex.

Melissa: I think it was the Good Hurt.

Sarah: You’re right! Good Hurt.

Melissa: We hit it off instantly.

Sarah, have you ever worked in this order before? Drawing from source material, then crafting your poetry?

Sarah: I have worked with other writers. My last full-length collaboration, After the Fox, was written as email correspondence with my co-author, Travis Cebula. But I have never worked with anyone who uses a visual medium. It was great. I got to break a lot of my own “writerly rules.” 

How has the experience differed, working with a photographer vs working with another writer?

Sarah: Well, there’s not as much pressure on the words themselves. And there’s not enough room for the words to take all the credit. A huge, vague image might need more words, a very detailed image might need less words. It’s more like a symphony than a solo. I liked taking all that into consideration, and letting Melissa’s images speak for themselves, while still adding another dimension.

The title of the book is also the name of the first poem presented. What is the intention behind the title? Are we, as the readers, supposed to infer something immediately?  

Sarah: It’s taken from a line in the first piece, “Having Sprung, or Vernal.” I think that line came from the idea of the water images. Am I surrounding you, or are you surrounding me? When I wrote it, I was simply thinking about being engulfed by water, or being a foreign object in the sea (like a human, that, obviously, can’t survive there). However, I also think it translates to holding a book, reading a book or being mesmerized by an image. It’s kind of about participation. In life, even. Then again, there’s always 1400 different ways to take it.

Melissa: I loved that title because in my head, the whole “changing of the seasons” is such an important theme.  Not just for this collaboration, but in life.  I feel like there’s always a “life force” for lack of a better description, that connects all of it and all of us.  There’s something to be said for accepting what is, and “Am I surrounding you?” perfectly represented this this feeling of yin and yang.  We are not separate from nature, we are a part of it.  The following line is: “or are you surrounding me?” which further punctuates the point. I think that’s what’s been so cool about this collaboration… This different point of view that can be interpreted a hundred different ways depending on who’s reading/viewing it.

I was going to bring that up! The consistent theme of your ongoing collaboration is the changing of the seasons. Why did you choose that as the anchor of your series?

Melissa: I think it’s always been about the way it feels. Spring feels different than winter… Summer feels different from autumn.  We can try to go against nature, but it never works. This can be interpreted very literally, but also philosophically. Our life patterns mimic those patterns found in nature… I find it beautiful and comforting. I like those things that express a deeper internal dialogue or truth.  Those feelings that are instinctual that can’t always be described in words… Or when they are, it’s even more beautiful because you’re connecting something in a way that is comprehendible. It’s the most natural touchstone that everyone can relate to.

2016’s theme was the natural elements; Earth, Air, Fire and Water. What inspired that choice?

Sarah: I think, again, it is perhaps the accessibility of binary forces, and our natural inclination to understand elemental entities.

Melissa: It kind of just happened. We talked about wanting to do another collaboration and I brought up my desire to do something with the changing of the seasons.  That meant three more projects and you were like, well what goes with water… and you came up with the idea of doing all the other elements. The whole thing just unfolded so naturally.

Sarah: Also, for a writer, working with photos of the elements, I knew Melissa’s images would stand out and capture something dramatic.

Melissa: I’m constantly taking sky pictures and was stoked to have a reason to pull some of them from the depths of my computer and have a little light on them.  Especially with Sarah interpreting them in her bitchin’ way.

Sarah: Swoon, the sky!

In the earth section of the book, the photography reminded me of ancient cave drawings. Melissa, can you tell me a little bit about the process behind that part of the series?

Melissa: That’s awesome it reminded you of cave drawings! For the earth section, I made actual prints of images from the first two sections.  I distressed them like the earth would… left them out in the rain on a hiking trip to Escalante last fall, put rocks and sand over them and ran over them with my car… Took rocks and twigs and scraped them up.  They didn’t quite distress in a way I had hoped using all natural elements which was the initial goal, so I got some paint and pushed it along a bit.  I’d throw leaves and dirt on the prints and then let the wind catch the paint.

[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”]

An image from the Earth series.

You’re both currently in “production mode,” planning a new project that centers on the theme “The Feminine.” How did you narrow your focus to that subject?

Sarah: We just get started and see where it goes! But what will be different here is I will be talking to the photography models/muses and hopefully incorporating their story and their dialog into the writing. So, in some ways, it will be up to the muses, which is thrilling for me as the writer. The words will literally and figuratively take the shape of the muse.

Models are needed for this next project, which will showcase a variety of women in various states of nudity. What would you say to a woman who’s interested in participating… but a little nervous about the nudity?

Sarah: I would say Melissa will make anyone feel comfortable and gorgeous.

Melissa: I understand that nudity is scary. I’m scared to shoot nudes! It’s all love, and it’s not about just them… It’s about all of us and we’re doing this together.

Sarah: One idea behind the book is also more about the beauty of the natural feminine form than it is about the nudity.

Melissa: We don’t know where this will take us, but that’s why we’re doing it. We want to explore a topic that meaningful to the both of us. The nudity is just a physical expression of stripping down. I see and feel the beauty in people as they are. [/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”][It’s] coming from a place of love and acceptance, so hopefully that helps with some of the nerves.

What do you hope readers will take away from ‘Am I surrounding you’?

Melissa: I just hope what we produced makes people think or feel something.

Sarah: I hope they take away something they can relate to. I hope they open that book, and close it feeling like they have something to talk about, share, and question. I hope they emote.

Am I Surrounding You? is now available for purchase at www.sarahandmelissa.com.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

ONLY NOISE: The Art of Dissent

If you are paying attention to the political sector right now – and I’d be concerned yet impressed if you’ve managed to escape it – every day may feel like a battle. Those who have suffered depression will be uncomfortably familiar with this sentiment. The difference being: now we experience distress as a collective whole. Shared unrest can at least make us feel less solitary, but it comes with its own set of side effects. A sense of widespread and impending doom, for instance.

In times like these, it is easy to write off seemingly frivolous forms of catharsis. To put away pleasure and fortify yourself with facts instead. To bury the arts under a headstone reading: “Trivial.” I’ve certainly found it difficult to appreciate art at face value lately. How could I dare enjoy something pretty amidst the calculated intolerance being issued by our new government? Surely I’m not the only one who feels guilt and futility lest I’m actively educating myself on the matter or combatting it – on foot or on paper.

And then, as if she could feel our hearts breaking, our shame and impotence triumphing, a respected member of the New York music community wrote a post on Facebook urging artists and musicians:

“DO NOT BE AFRAID OR FEEL ASHAMED to spread your work, or promote your shows amongst this chaos! It is in no way selfish. The community you build with your work, and the shows you’re playing are helping people heal, and find togetherness, and give people a moment of goddamn peace. Do not let Drumph oppress your work. Artists, you are SO IMPORTANT especially in times like this. Use your magic.”

She was unassailably right, and I try to remember that statement every day. In a rare moment of optimism, my hope is to push her words further. To highlight that while dialectics and dissent and physical resistance are all of utmost importance right now, so too is the creation and support of art. To learn from previous art and make new work that addresses our current despair.

It is my personal belief that the best art is birthed from conflict, internal or otherwise, and not necessarily from a pure urge to depict beauty alone. This, incidentally, leads me to liking a lot of “unpleasant” music, literature, film, and visual art, as my friends and family could tell you. Otto Dix’s depictions of the First World War, Hemingway’s accounts of The Spanish Civil War, the IRA drama The Wind That Shakes The Barley, Thatcher/Reagan era punk music, and of course George Orwell’s 1984.

The latter two have a special relationship for me, and given 1984’s recent resurgence in popularity, I found it an apt tie-in to the importance of embracing the arts in trying times. This isn’t the first instance post-publishing that 1984 has been all over pop culture. Its sales spiked 5,771% after Edward Snowden leaked the NSA’s phone tapping secrets to the world. 30 years prior, punk bands of the late ‘70s and ‘80s found its text all too applicable to Margaret Thatcher’s reign in Britain, especially groups like Subhumans, without whom I may have never read 1984.

Subhumans’ 1983 debut record The Day The Country Died is essentially a 1984 concept album, with dystopian themes throughout. Specifically, Orwell’s masterpiece is referenced in the opening track “All Gone Dead” (“So long to the world, that’s what they said, it’s 1984 and it’s all gone dead”) and “Big Brother,” which makes references to the novel’s voyeuristic telescreen spying on its citizens. In hindsight, the record and the novel reveal eerie premonitions: today, a majority of the United Kingdom is monitored by CCTV cameras (1 for every 32 people, as The Guardian reported in 2011).

Currently sales of 1984 are up 9,500%, the novel reaching the top of the Amazon best-seller list in the days after Presidential Counselor Kellyanne Conway stated that Press Secretary Sean Spicer gave “alternative facts” when discussing the number of those in attendance at President Trump’s inauguration. This paradox uttered by Conway immediately reminded thousands of Orwell’s terms “doublethink,” which refers to “reality control” and “newspeak” – the eradication of independent thought.

What I find most remarkable, is that in spite of this shitstorm we’re facing, people are actually trying to better themselves in every way possible; taking time out of their weekends to schlep to JFK and resist Trump’s immigration orders, creating and signing petitions, and even simply reading a piece of relevant literature – swapping out fantasy fiction for something radical, political, and “unpleasant.”

The fact that the arts are intersecting with politics at a volume that hasn’t occurred in decades, to me marks the end of cynicism in the creative world. When pop stars like Sia and Grimes donate tens of thousands of dollars to the ACLU and CAIR, when countless performers turn down a large paycheck for the sake of their political integrity (the star-studded scoff at the Inaugural Ball, I mean), when commercial singers like Janelle Monae and Alicia Keys and Madonna show up at the Women’s March on Washington – you know there is a paradigm shift at hand.

It is a sign that art can be radical. Music can be radical. I am not saying we should all hold hands and sing “Kumbaya.” I am saying we should hold our fists in the air and sing Pussy Riot, and keep making music that is topical, and angry, and full of conflict. We should read Orwell and Marcuse and Debord, but we should also write the next 1984, and the next Reason and Revolution, and the next The Society of the Spectacle.

It seems to me that if we could focus all of our efforts – especially artistic efforts – with a critical and productive lens, if we could make every atom of our reality about discussing and re-shaping what we can no longer accept, then we have a shot at real progress. There is a time for art that perceives itself (but isn’t actually) in a vacuum. There is a time for post-modern distraction, and the navel-gazing art of identity politics, and artistic fetishizing of antiquity. Now is not that time.

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

PLAYING DETROIT: Mic Write “blak/joi”


Emcee, poet, educator, and Detroit visionary, Chace “Mic Write” Morris is unstoppable. Mic Write’s reputation as a renaissance man pales in comparison to the weight of his message and unconstrained fervor. As a slam poetry champion, Kresge literary arts recipient and a main player in the progressive hip-hop collaboration Cold Man Young, Write has tapped into the collective social conscious, delivering striking commentary on race, community, and injustice with an impervious directness by means of jaw-dropping scholarly rhyme schemes paired with beats suitable for both grinding or marching, respectively.

Even when shining a light on systematic oppression and gentrification, Write never waivers in making it a point to remind of us of joy, hope, and gratitude. “It’s been a hell of a year/but if you hear this then you still hear us,” Write proclaims in his latest track, “blak/joi,” a song balanced with care, but not with caution. “Blak/joi” is as much of a story as it is a rap and just as much of a call to arms as it is a love-lorn sonnet to the past and future. One of the most impactful aspects of Write’s performance is that it doesn’t feel like a performance. It isn’t a callused memorization of lyrics or idle notations on cadence or emphasis, rather an in-the-moment, impassioned retelling of a dream/nightmare turned reality where words are both spilling and fighting their way through clenched teeth.

“Oh can you feel it?/ocean couldn’t drown it/chains couldn’t slave it/bullets couldn’t kill it/cops couldn’t beat it/death couldn’t tame it/government couldn’t steal it,” Write professes in what is one of the most hard hitting rhymes on the track, again, dancing the line between hope lost and hope found. The most unassumingly heartbreaking line, though, is the disjointed chorus. The song trails off to Write admitting “Sometimes I trip on how happy we could be/sometimes I trip on how happy we could be” as if he reached for the clouds knowing he would only bring down dust.

Feel the power with Mic Write’s latest, “blak/joi” below:

ARTIST INTERVIEW: Mexico City Blondes

Mexico City Blondes

Mexico City Blondes are a musical duo from Santa Barbara, CA, that know how to place the packaged whipped cream with the homemade cherry pie, so to say, lovingly delicious. Or, put more succinctly, “Sort of marriage between the electronic and organic sounds,” says Greg, one-half of the Blondes.

The group recently released the single “Shot the Moon,” a delicately sewn sultry couture dress of a song with layered synths laced with Allie Thompson’s seductive vocals.

 “It’s definitely a snapshot of our dark side,” says singer/songwriter Allie of the single. “A musical confrontation of some of my deepest fears, a way to address nameless faceless foes who don’t have the power to hurt us unless we let them. Even going to the dark side is more satisfying to me when there is redemption and light in the darkness, hence the imagery of a white moon in a dark sky.”

We spoke with Allie and Greg from Mexico City Blondes about fashion influences (Gwen Stefani of course, power to the blondes), the power of Black Sabbath, and getting in touch with their dark side.

AudioFemme: How’d you come up with the name Mexico City Blondes?

Greg Doscher: I came up with it on a flight to, of all places, Mexico City. Really loved it for the project, and Allie liked it immediately when I suggested it. It has a meaning to me, but I don’t like to spell it out for people. It can be whatever comes to anyone’s mind when they hear it, and it’s more fun that way.

AF: How did the band form?

GD: Allie responded to an ad I put on Craigslist a year or so after the last band I was in dissolved. I advertised myself as a local producer looking for singers/songwriters to collaborate with. I can handle the production and recording, but can’t sing to save my life. Allie and I hit it off immediately and seemed to be on the same page as far as influences and the type of music we wanted to make. She’s also a great songwriter and we’ve had a lot of fun collaborating.

AF: Who have been your primary musical influences?

Allie Thompson: Growing up, I was exposed to a lot of folk music with introspective lyrics. Joni Mitchell, Dylan, Paul Simon…The art of crafting a song was always revered in my childhood home, and the production was an afterthought. It wasn’t until I started writing songs that I began to experiment with production style in order to bring the songs to life in the way I wanted to hear them. Around that time I was listening to a lot of Portishead and Beachhouse, and around that time I met Greg who was able to translate my rudimentary descriptors into the songs I wanted to hear!

GD: Aside from those above, as a teenager I picked up a guitar because of Black Sabbath and that’s still with me. Was really into the big 70s groups like Sabbath and Floyd, David Bowie and Zeppelin of course. As I grew up my tastes evolved a bit and realized that electronic music could be as sonically nuanced as some of the rock I grew up on.

AF: Do you have any fashion influences?

AT: I grew up with posters of No Doubt all over my walls, and I guess I never really got over Gwen! 15 years later I still look to her for fashion influence both on and off stage. I’ve always been a sucker for red lipstick, and it sure is convenient that she’s a blonde!

GD: Haha, my wife.

AF: Much is made of labeling sounds, what words do you like best to describe your music?

GD: Hard to say, but from a production standpoint I’ve always been really heavily influenced by groups like Massive Attack and someone like DJ Shadow who’s made incredible music with a sampler. That being said, I’m a guitarist with a pretty extensive rock background, so there’s always going to be some elements of that in there. Sort of marriage between the electronic and organic sounds I like and that we try and use. “Shot the Moon” is a good example of that mix. The electronic elements are the Moog synth that pulses throughout and a drum machine, but we also recorded live drums and live piano on top of those.

AF: Will you tell me about the meaning behind your new single “Shot the Moon?”

AT: It’s definitely a snapshot of our dark side. A musical confrontation of some of my deepest fears, a way to address nameless faceless foes who don’t have the power to hurt us unless we let them. Even going to the dark side is more satisfying to me when there is redemption and light in the darkness, hence the imagery of a white moon in a dark sky.

AF: How much of your personal life gets worked into your songs?

AT: The songs are always personal.  Sometimes I write in a moment of acute emotion, but often a song will take me a few months to complete. It takes me that long to process emotions and gain perspective. The songs have the most power for me in understanding a situation as a whole, and that often takes time to unfold.

GD: Just about all of it. Hard to separate the two because of course whatever you’re feeling emotionally or going through personally is going to bleed into the music in terms of the sounds you pick, the chords you play and more obviously the lyrics that get written

AF: What’s next for Mexico City Blondes?

GD: We have a single that’s sort of the B-side, companion to “Shot the Moon” called “Yellow Sunshine” that we’ll release soon and a video for “Shot the Moon” on the way. Aside from that, lots more music in the pipeline and we’ll try and get out and perform these songs wherever we can.

Listen to “Shot the Moon” below.

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YEAR END LIST: Top 10 Album Covers


Let’s all just agree to agree that hip hop as a genre won the album cover contest this year, okay? Much of the new heavy metal out this year bore covers that ran the gambit between overstatedly woodsy to just plain inexplicable, and pop albums favored stark, angular glamor shots and occasionally left us confused as to why these artists are so mad at us. Release for release, hip hop had some stellar, memorable artwork, much of it instantly iconic portrait art, like Drake’s diptych of his child self mirrored with a matching image of himself as an adult. However, one exclusion from our favorite cover art of 2013 is a hip hop album worth mentioning: Kanye West’s Yeezus.

I know, I know: Yeezus saves. Equally loved and detested, West’s new album will, I predict, come to be one of the lasting albums from 2013, and he’s had his share of notable, exquisite, and ridiculous moments. But Yeezus’ album cover art isn’t any of the above. First of all, the red tape slapped onto the homemade CD is at best a humble-brag for the contents’ breadth and slick production–the record itself is far more magnum opus than it is demo tape, and both West and Yeezus know it. Secondly, it’s neither iconic nor indicative of the year West has had–the image is tepid, and in 2013, the rapper was anything but. Number 10 in our Year End Album Cover countdown employs the same understated formality of Yeezus’ image, but goes for an effect more subtly surreal.

10. Kid Cudi – Indicud


The contrast of the stately frame makes the fire in this image come alive, as if it’s three-dimensional. Dangerous, uncontainable things come inside unassuming packages, and this image is so memorable because it’s unpredictable, framing a scene that doesn’t naturally observe boundaries.

Listen to “Unfuckwittable” off of Indicud here via Grooveshark:


9. Warm Soda – Someone For You


Flat, room-temperature yellow backs this ambivalently nostalgic cover, bringing listless summer days to mind. In fact, the image captures the album’s blistering-but-catchy, vaguely seventies-era sound perfectly.

Listen to “Someone for you” off of Warm Soda here via Grooveshark:


8. The Civil Wars – The Civil Wars


High-definition billowing smoke, a black and grey scale, and the austere white script across the dark grey cloud make this album cover memorably melancholy and archaic. This image looms, foreboding, channeling the loneliness and stark beauty of this band’s self-titled album.

Listen to “From This Valley” off of The Civil Wars here via Soundcloud:


7. The National – Trouble Will Find Me


This odd, and vaguely threatening, photograph evokes a chilly quirkiness that The National’s Trouble Will Find Me delivers.  The sterility of the floor–bathroom tiles, maybe–lends a particular spookiness to this shot.

Listen to “I Should Live In Salt”, off of Trouble Will Find Me here via Grooveshark:


6. Bill Callahan – Dream River


The broad brushstrokes of the album’s title look almost like vandalism, as if they’d been painted over an otherwise stylistically intact impressionistic scene. Vast and epic, the foggy image draws my attention to that peeking square of sky above the mountains, and the music on this record is equally complex and easily obscured.

Listen to “The Sing” off of Dream River here via Grooveshark:


5. Tyler, the Creator – Wolf


The yearbook aesthetic is brought off with hilarious attention to detail, but what really makes this cover so bizarre are the faces Tyler, the Creator makes here. Simultaneously nostalgic for and mocking innocence, this rapper nails high school’s un-selfaware awkwardness (no surprise, since the rapper was only twenty-one when this picture was taken).

Listen to “Awkward” off of Wolf here via Grooveshark:


4. A$AP Rocky – Long. Live. A$AP


Sweet baby Jesus, this album cover is terrifying. Strongly evocative of a screenshot from The Ring, A$AP Rocky huddles with his head down, cloaked in an American flag, as the (presumably) VHS film recording him stutters between frames.

Listen to “Purple Swag” off of Long.Live.A$AP here via Grooveshark:


3. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories


Adapting the cursive script made iconic by Michael Jackson’s Thriller to a shiny, austere image of their own, Daft Punk set the standards high for their 2013 release. The album delivered on a grand, complicated scale, setting the band’s course for dance music that was at once nostalgic and intensely intellectualized.

Listen to “The Game Of Love” off of Random Access Memories here via Grooveshark:


2. Death Grips – Government Plates


There’s nothing frill about this stark, badass album, and nothing frilly about the stark, badass album art, either. As nihilistic as the music within, this image zooms in on the message.

Listen to “Birds” off of Government Plates here via Soundcloud:


1. Deafheaven – Sunbather


Like shoegaze metal itself, this cover–an utterly pink black metal album–seems like an illogical combination of things (see the album’s gorgeous Abstract Expressionist-inspired Vinyl design up top as our featured image), but makes glorious sense taken altogether. The image represents a view of the sun from behind your eyelids, a harsh and not wholly possible ascent towards the sublime that perfectly mirrors the journey the group takes over the course of the album.

Listen to “Dream House” off of Sunbather here via Bandcamp: