“The more you tune into it, the more you realize that, as a female, you’ve been excluded and you’re supposed to just paint yourself into the picture, into the male image.” —Bianca Casady of CocoRosie
Religion, sex, and politics: these are topics we are taught not to discuss over the dinner table, or in the company of strangers. For CocoRosie, these controversial subjects are fundamental to their feminist artistic expression. Sisters Bianca and Sierra Casady delve unabashedly into male-dominated art forms, collaborating sonically and visually on multidisciplinary projects. Their songs, theatrical performances, and provocative imagery explore the conceptual possibilities and socially accepted realities of what it is to be a woman and an artist.
“They [CocoRosie] are unafraid to manifest their vision that the application of magical creativity could be a balm for aching souls in a struggling world.” —Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons
Underlying the duo’s genre-bending music is the idea of feminism as a restructuring force — that in order for more accurate perceptions about gender to be widespread, powerful institutions that oppress women must be reorganized or removed. On religion, Bianca told The Stranger, “The concept of a male god is the root of so many of our troubles and misconceptions about women and men.” To her, the “illusion of male spiritual superiority” stands in the way of humankind acknowledging its treatment of Mother Nature.
In line with her beliefs, Bianca recently launched a feminist arts magazine entitled Girls Against God. Created with artist Anne Sherwood Pundyk, GAG integrates the concepts of community and public space through interviews, essays, and original artwork from diverse contributors. The magazine is described as shedding light on patriarchal institutions, including “male-defined religions.” Acting as a platform for political content, the print publication is the literary manifestation of CocoRosie’s feminist philosophy.
“Patriarchy is over. This is my slogan of hope. We must project optimistic images. I don’t want to see popes and presidents and warlords anymore.” —Bianca
Through five studio albums — the latest is this year’s Tales of the GrassWidow — CocoRosie has created and refined a kind of surrealist pop music, incorporating politically and spiritually charged messages into haunting melodies and dream-like instrumentation. Pushing musical palatability, their unique mix of blues and hip-hop stylings has proven polarizing with music fans and critics alike.
However received, their sound has lent itself well to working with multi-faceted artists like the duo’s longtime collaborator Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons. Since appearing on CocoRosie’s second album, Noah’s Ark, Hegarty has joined the duo for a host of feminist-oriented endeavors, ranging from multidisciplinary festivals to a political collective called Future Feminists. The group concentrates on bringing feminism and environmental responsibility to the forefront of public discourse through artistic action.
“Questions are being asked that weren’t asked before. Things are being covered in the media that didn’t have so much attention. And there is a change in the temperature of peoples’ consciousness.” —Sierra
The sisters’ progressive and socially conscious views materialized in 2013’s Tales of the GrassWidow. Bianca said of the record’s title, “It’s not a widow mourning the loss of a husband, but a child that’s mourning the loss of innocence.” That interpretation is literal in the song “Child Bride.” Based on a true story, the lyrics follow a five-year-old girl’s emotional journey as she is married to an adult man.
The song’s music video shows a girl and her mother both wearing long, sheet-like coverings and gold metal masks covering their mouths. The costumes — evocative of burqas worn by some Islamic women — criticize the tradition of child marriage maintained in many countries by oppressive entities.
“There will not be an invitation for women to take the seat of power — we must just take it.” —Bianca
Their visual work is as experimental as their musical catalogue. In 2012 Bianca opened her art exhibition Daisy Chain in SoHo. The show juxtaposed imagery and meaning, balancing a masculine influence expressed as the current state of the prison system and the seemingly feminine softness of watercolor pastels. (For more on Daisy Chain, read Chris Mode’s piece “Harmonizing Contrasts: CocoRosie and their Visual Aesthetic.”)
The eccentric nature of CocoRosie’s live performances speaks to their creative breadth. Video projections behind the band run the gamut from perverse cartoons to birds flying over a horizon to black-and-white footage of clowns. Challenging the flawless facade expected of female pop singers, the sisters’ extravagant costumes, wigs, and exaggerated makeup often act to cloak or disfigure their physical appearances. Bianca frequently dresses in drag, confronting definitions of gender and sexuality. In their unconventional stage shows, a distinctly subversive attitude is illuminated.
Controversial or not, the Casady sisters bring up topics that can make us uncomfortable. In line with the duo’s eclectic array of creativity, their music finds a place for the denouncement of sexism and political and religious oppression next to tinkering piano keys and lullaby-like tunes. While advocating for equality, editing an arts magazine, presenting original exhibitions and touring internationally, the two also find time to write and record albums. By means of cross-disciplinary collaboration, CocoRosie fearlessly explore their feminist beliefs in the hopes of changing the current discussion on social justice, art, and music.
CocoRosie perform at The Cedar on Saturday, October 19, 2013 at 8 pm.