capes and crusades / the women of wunderfrauen

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who was your childhood hero? was it a singer? a movie star? the president? was it a family member? your teacher? a character from a tv show? whoever it was, it’s likely they didn’t wear a cape. they probably didn’t sport a mask. they couldn’t fly, and they didn’t have super powers. whoever they were, it’s likely they were simply someone ordinary who did something extraordinary.

that’s the kind of message that wunderfrauen, a new art and music collective based in berlin, is trying to send. their crusade is simple: through concerts, art exhibitions, and events, wunderfrauen aims to support women in the arts and media, and to celebrate their work. in short? to introduce the new superheroes.

their first event, WHAT THE FRAU, is taking place tonight (25 november 2015) at the urban spree. featuring a host of female musicians, singers, visual artists, and photographers, the event will be the first of many hoping to bring the wunderfrauen of berlin’s art scene into the spotlight. in between attempting to fly poster the city with wunderfrauen’s mysterious black triangle, i caught up with the women behind wunderfrauen to talk about the initiative. starting with the same question (who was your childhood hero?), we talked music, media, and the  wunderfrauen movement.

dan

who was your childhood hero?

looking back, i can think of the first female musician i heard that really blew me away… i was 11 years old when i discovered a greatest hits album with a beautiful woman on the cover, sitting on a motorcycle. it was none other than the legendary janis joplin. her voice, her captivating stage presence and her music definitely impacted me a lot! and i feel that musically, who i am today and on stage is definitely influenced by her.

do you remember the first time you heard that album?

of course! i remember exactly the first time i heard that voice! i was in the living room, where we had the cd player and i was like, “what is that?! fuck me!” (laughs) i haven’t listened to that record in a long time actually but each time i hear it i feel different things because i’m changing, growing up… and that is exactly what makes music such an incredible thing. it changes with you. a song can change its meaning each time you hear it. at the time, that greatest hits album was completely mind blowing.

why is that?

well, at the time in the 90’s when i was growing up, i remember that mtv was filled with either rock bands, which was mainly men, and pop singers, who were mostly girls. and it felt so plastic, you know? it felt too perfect, too far away from reality. i have nothing against pop music, on the contrary! it’s just at the time felt a bit empty. so for me, seeing someone like janis was… indescribable! she was really this new, amazing strong female rock icon, and that was something i’d never seen before.

having seen you perform, i can tell she influenced you a lot as a musician.

definitely. i think that the fact that each time i watched her live videos i felt completely empowered just made her simply special for me. i felt like i wanted to sing! i felt like i can be myself and it’s ok. she is just real… singing her heart out, being so exposed. pure emotions. so fucking inspiring! i guess the biggest lesson she taught me would be to just let yourself be who you are, without holding back, without questioning yourself, and allowing it to take you to wherever it might take you.

what makes janis (or anyone) a wunderfrau?

(laughs) this is the million dollar question! our society is changing all the time… music, technology, lifestyles, cultures and the perception of women in all that as well. we have become a generation of comparisons. with all the social media, it is so easy to constantly compare yourself to others. women to women. men to men, and women to men, and to be strongly impacted by what the media tells us to be or sells us or shows us that this is the way to go if we want to be happy or whole with ourselves. so for me, thinking of wunderfrauen – i’m thinking of women, and also men, who are true to themselves, who are doing what they love, what they’re passionate about, who gives their love and support for those who do the same. after all, we have only one life to live.

milly

who was your childhood hero?

my childhood hero was michael jackson! i loved him for years and years and years, and then i had a revival recently! (laughs) the music was so good. my next door neighbour and i had a contest of who was the biggest fan… but she was allowed to have posters up, so she won by default. i really loved cher as well! i just thought she was amazing. when the “shoop shoop song” came out… (laughs) she was great. for my 8th birthday, my dad gave me a tape recording of love hurts by cher, and i wore the tape out, i listened to it so much.

do you still listen to that album today?

constantly! 1991 it came out and i still listen to it. the thing about cher is she’s just so fabulous. she’s the most amazing woman who ever lived, honestly! i loved her dresses, the way she danced, she’s so glamorous and i loved all her songs… i didn’t know what any of them meant but i loved them. she’s magic. and even with michael jackson, i just get so much from his music. it just brought me so much joy. their music is totally timeless, and it’s really amazing quality. and “man in the mirror” is my favourite song ever!

what do you think makes a wunderfrau?

the reason that the wunderfrauen concept is so potent is that we’re just regular women. we don’t have superpowers! (laughs) not to ruin the myth but it’s the idea that all you really need to do is believe that something is really good and support it. it’s such a simple concept! we just want to get together and make a platform for women to feel safe in. and it’s so easy to do but for some reason it feels like we’re doing something new. in that way, it’s a bit sad because we shouldn’t need to do it. but the fact that it’s been so simple… we’ve gotten so much support and so much interest, and it shows that there’s a need for it.

i think what you were saying about how we’re just normal girls who dress up and do cool shit, that’s really true about cher and michael jackson as well. you know, these were just normal people — sure, cher had fabulous hair and michael had the jacket, but in the end, they were just regular people.

yeah! it’s true! absolutely, the mystique and the glamour. it’s the alter-ego sense of it. cher’s red hair, the black hair, all the hair! (laughs) there’s a fantastical element to it that makes it really special. and really fun. and that’s a big thing for us too: what we’re doing is not negative. we’re not about to have a whine, it’s celebratory, we want everyone to come out and have a good time, because that’s what we’re doing. we’re just having fun.

g

who was your childhood hero?

the first childhood hero that i remember having was astro boy, the japanese cartoon! he was this kid with a funny spike in his hair. i watched it a lot when i was a kid. i used to run around the house with my arm up in the air… i wanted to be astro boy! i wanted the cool boots, too! and i remember my parents wondering why i never wanted to be his female sidekick, uran. and i remember just thinking she was so boring! she didn’t have any role in the action, she was just tagging along like a girlfriend figure. and i think that’s a really important point for me because 30 years ago, when i was a kid, the female characters were all on the sidelines.

and even the leading female characters in comic books — superwoman, catwoman, etc — were all these hugely sexualized versions of themselves. not exactly the ideal role model.

absolutely! even in comic book culture, they’re all big boobs, tiny waist, it’s just…. for sure there’s some really cool female characters. i like storm from x-men! she’s totally badass. but i do feel like the tables need to be turned. what’s the name of the test we were talking about the other day?

the bechdel test. it asks whether a work of fiction has at least two women in it, who talk to each other about something other than a man.

yeah, exactly. and it’s amazing how many films and books just do not pass that test. everyone is having to fight to have women represented as anything other than a flakey love interest. we all know that media influences our behaviour. so i think we really need to change that. and that’s really what we’re trying to do with wunderfrauen.

how does astro boy play into this whole wunderfrauen idea?

(laughs) i mean it’s all kind of silly, we run around in capes and costumes and handmade masks. we’re not taking ourselves too seriously, but in line with what i’ve been talking about with women in the media… i think there are large cultural changes that need to be made if we want to move forward and start being equals. the industry that i work in is music and it is very male heavy. i love the guys that i work with but i do feel that women are underrepresented, and it’s not because of a lack of talent! i’m not saying we have all the answers. all we want to say is that we’re here too, and this is what we’re doing. we’re fuckin’ wunderfrauen and this is what we’re doing!

laura

who was your childhood hero?

my grandmother, filomena. she was, how do you say? a peasant? she was extremely poor, but she was unbelievably intelligent. she had grey eyes in my memory. she was always wearing black because she was always thinking about somebody that passed… she lived in this little town in calabria, where she was always the head of the protest, even if she didn’t go to school, she was absolutely, definitely clever. she was always defending the weak! (laughs) she threw parties and even when she was getting older… you’d have this terribly passionate old woman, dancing!

she was musical, like you?

she was dancing and she was singing and she was full of energy. my parents were working a lot when i was growing up so i spent a lot of time with her… i loved her power and her personality. and it was all brain. she was able and capable to help me to understand anything. but most of all, she wouldn’t shut up in front of anybody! (laughs)

how has that been an influence on you?

because i also can’t shut up for anybody! (laughs) i’m full of energy, too, that came from my mother and my mother’s mother and my grandmother’s mother. we all listened to music always… my grandmother, she sang a lot of popular folk songs, she had such a voice. sadly, she died when i was 14.

what do you think made your grandmother a wunderfrauen?

the bravery. it’s not like us. we have so much freedom. my grandmother had to marry a man that she was not in love with. she was a peasant. she didn’t have very much. but still, she thought her possibilities were limitless, still she was able to emerge from this, and have good conversations and good arguments. she was so intelligent and she lived a reality of serving the people. for us, wunderfrauen is not just promoting art, it’s helping people. it’s a connection. as i said, it’s easy to be a wunderfrau for us here, because we’re free. but when you are like her, struggling… it’s even more wonderful to be a wunderfrau.

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