"The phrase [rape culture] denotes a culture where we are inundated, in different ways, by the idea that male aggression and violence toward women is acceptable and often inevitable" is a quote from Roxane Gay's seminal 2011 essay on rape culture semantics, but it also utilized as a part of Kiran Gandhi's live performance -- to great effect.
Better known as her artistic persona, Madame Gandhi, the recent Harvard graduate rose to fame after running the London marathon while bleeding freely and as M.I.A's former drummer. She also headlined GRLCVLT's recent "Fuck Rape Culture" event at Baby's All Right to help recall Judge Aaron Persky of the Brock Turner case. An array of upbeat bands and thoughtful speeches led up to Madame Gandhi's headlining performance, which was a flawless fusion of the two.
When Gandhi, in all her glory, graced the stage, the mood immediately shifted. The lights dimmed; her set time had run late, so the room felt slimmer, but those who were still there were waiting and ready. She poignantly discussed the problematic implications of "boys will be boys culture" and broke down the stigmas that surround and denounce feminine energy and power.
We met up the next day in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens to talk further about the various forms of feminism.
Kiran Gandhi in M.I.A x Versus VersacePhoto by Peyton Dix, Collage by Nydia Hartono
Your performance for the GRLCVLT fundraiser not only reminded me how great it feels to be a multi-faceted woman, but reminded me that I am one.
We're three dimensional beings. Somedays we're super fierce and fabulous and powerful, and other days we're missing our lover and that's got to be okay. It's beautiful, how nice that we can feel the full spectrum of emotions.
During your performance of "Sun Spills", why did you choose specifically to read The Feminist Utopia and The Bad Feminist? Does it change every show?
The Bad Feminist was specifically for this show. In theory I've wanted to read different things for ["Sun Spills"], but The Feminist Utopia has always been the perfect thing to read because it's hypothetical, it's a utopia. The beauty in that song is that it's open to different ways of performing it.
Kiran Gandhi at Baby's All Right Photo by Tyler Yassky
There's always this unspoken idea that acceptable feminism is strictly white feminism and intersectionality is often lost. GRLCVLT, although its genesis erected from a sense of female solidarity, it was soon realized as a space highly dominated by white voices. How do you combat single-story feminism in spaces that are dominantly privileged and white, especially being a part of an indie music genre.
Yeah, It's very white. Obviously. I think one of the most immediate ways is the trivia I [ask during my performances]. Most people don't know that the first female millionaire is a black woman. One of the most important things to me is creating a new brand of female empowerment and gender equality that is obviously intersectional. Intersectional not only according to race but to sexual orientation, to socioeconomic background, to age, and to whether you are a trans identifying or a cis identifying woman.
I think you see that in championing the period stigma movement and combating period stigma. That has been one of the most amazing ways to bridge these barriers within feminism and within a united cause to create equality for women. If you are a biologically healthy female, you will go through having a period in your life. It's such a common experience that combating this stigma around it has been such an amazing way to unite women and to get us talking to each other. I love that I can go to the middle of Africa or to Nepal or to France or to Sweden, and I can talk to someone who can barely speak my own language but can giggle with me over shitty period stories. That's really epic and we don't see our monthly cycles as this point of bonding, as this point of unification among us all. We see it as this gross, shameful thing. So that's the first way I would answer your question.One of the ways [my producer] Alexia and I and my project Madame Gandhi combat this lack of intersectional feminism is by championing issues that do connect us all.
Specifically agreeing to do an event that has a white energy to it, in terms of the leadership, one of the most amazing things I can bring to the table, is to infuse it with a different energy and to infuse it with our energy as two women of Indian origin, to champion black women. In my show Madame CJ Walker was featured and I use it as a moment of education where I teach the audience that the first female millionaire was black. We never talk about that and it's epic and she did it by serving her own race. The second thing is reading from Roxane Gay's book, Bad Feminist and she's a black American author. In our show by bringing different histories of different women of different walks of life to a white space you're automatically challenging the norm and forcing people to recognize the achievements of other women in feminism, of women in herstory.
Photos by Tyler Yassky
Do you think there was a shift for you in your understanding of feminism that came about from running the London Marathon while bleeding freely or did you grow up in spaces that always allotted for your idea of feminism to flourish?
I've always been extremely inspired by not only feminism but women who look like me who are doing amazing things because that's where I accessed my power from, even when I was young. When I was like four or five I remember identifying with Aladdin instead of Jasmine or with the Red Power Ranger instead of the Pink one. I identified with the boy characters not because they were boys or because I wanted to be a boy but because they were powerful and doing cool shit. They were awesome and I wished they were accessible for me. Then when the Spice Girls came around and I was living in India it was such an awakening for me. I was like yes! They were cool and they were different. Their songs were awesome, their clothing was awesome, they talked about girl power, everything about [them] resonated and it felt so good. It made me want to be cool. I dressed so well as an 8-year-old. I just got all this confidence by watching them. [The Spice Girls] deeply affected me. It's always been my mission to do that for the next generation and to anyone who sees my work. My brand of feminism has been a lifelong journey but really it was really it was only after my experience at Harvard doing my MBA and having this rigorous training to find and own my own voice. Then being given a megaphone after the London Marathon did I really step into my own shoes and decide I'm going to do this.
Speaking of the Spice Girls as an aforementioned icon, are there any artists today that inspire your work or you feel you connect with?
Kelela is a huge inspiration to me, Merrill Garbus of Tune-Yards, and obviously M.I.A was a huge inspiration. I think now Beyonce stepping into her shoes and using this megaphone to make Lemonade, is the definition of what I call "3D Femininity," which is experiences of love and life and sex and being powerful and a boss. It is very female to do both; to say, I am a mother and in control and a boss of this group of people, but I also know how to be vulnerable and allow myself to give and be in love and get hurt and all of that. That full range is so important because when women are presented in the media they're presented two-dimensionally. They're a girlfriend, a side-piece, a bitch, or the femme fatale which tends to be too extreme and hard to identify with the dominatrix personality. So Beyonce taking control and painting the representation of herself as she wished the media would represent media is so sick.
Did you watch Lemonade when it dropped? I feel like it was our generation's 'where were you when...'
Obviously! I was in San Francisco recording for two weeks at a place called Zoo Labs. You live at the studio and you don't talk to anybody and just get shit done. We wrote "Gandhi Blues" and "Her" there, which is the song we opened with [at Baby's All Right].
'The Future is Female' is a huge part of both your brand and your band's identity, can you deconstruct it for me?
'The Future is Female' means that no longer will female qualities be subordinated to male qualities. I believe that everybody possess male and female energy and I think that we each have a unique combination of male and female energy which is why we're having this amazing genderqueer and trans movement coming to life. A lot of people are saying 'yes, biologically I may be one or the other, but, spiritually I have some days that are very male driven and some days that are very female driven.' I really relate to that. I think that's why it's so amazing we have this moment right now because it's allowing all of us to be liberated in our own way, even if we are cis-identifying. To me, we still unfortunately live in a world where male qualities are more desirable than female qualities and I think that we see things like 'don't be such a pussy' or 'you hit like a girl' and all these insults, as if being vulnerable, being feminine, being soft, being emotionally intelligent, sensitive, aware, kind, collaborative, peaceful, all these things associated with female energy are negative. That's just not the case! There is this experiment where scientist put two male Bonobos in a cage and they'll fight each other until one dies to claim the space. You put two females in the cage they'll try to tend and nurture each other to decide that's your area and this is mine, you need both energy. In Hindu mythology you see women as the creator Goddesses and you see men as the destroyer Gods, but you need both. We still live in a world where female is in the private sphere, it's not that revered, it's not desirable. We don't teach boys to be more like girls. I want to live in a world where we can teach boys to be more like girls, be listening more, be attentive, be curious, all those things. So, 'The Future is Female' means that we should live in a world where all of us are more celebratory of the female within us. It's a big act of liberation for men too. It doesn't mean that you're necessarily attracted to men when you access your female qualities. No, you can be attracted to whomever you want, but you love the female energy you may possess and you see it as an asset to yourself rather than a weakness.
Do you have any projects coming up we could look forward to hearing or seeing?
Madame Gandhi Voices is coming out, it will be five songs, all of which you heard last night. It includes "Gandhi Blues", "The Future is Female", "Her", "Moon in The Sky" and "Yellow Sea". An older version of Yellow Sea is up on my Soundcloud now but you'll hear the fresher version on the album. We're aiming for a fall release date. Alexia and I are making more music all of August. We're working on music videos, album artwork and I'm writing a book called The Fourth Wave.
Preview Madame Gandhi's music now on her Soundcloud below.