Interview: Activist Icon Travis Alabanza on ‘Burgerz’ at Hackney Showroom
We caught up with Travis Alabanza to talk inspirations, advice on exploring your gender and their unmissable new show Burgerz at Hackney Showroom
Tell us about the show? Are there free burgerz?
It depends which show you come to. There could be. There couldn’t be. ( I mean 9/10 times there will not be…. ) but, what I mean to say, a lot is undecided. It depends on who is in the room.
The show was inspired by a pretty horrible moment for me. Someone threw a burger at me on waterloo bridge in April 2016 whilst they yelled a transphobic slur. That moment forced me to really think about what it means to be trans, how our bodies are seen in public space, and just why is no one protecting us? Is anyone protecting us? Burgerz is a culmination of my obsession with those questions, but also burgers. I can’t really cook, so I wanted a show that would help me with some of those skills. I wanted more people to think about public space, so I wanted a show that would bring that to the foreground. Burgerz< means I only had to make one show and combine them both.
What or who are your biggest inspirations for making your work?
Wow! That’s so hard because there is so many. I am always thankful to the queer artists that have given me advice, a stage, or support over the last few years of my career. Troublemakers like David Hoyle and Scottee remind me what it means to make work to provoke action, to see art as an extension of your politics, to not be afraid of not everyone liking what you do. My work isn’t about everyone agreeing, or liking, or being easy to swallow – and those artists remind me of that. Currently, other trans artists of colour like Alok Vaid-Menon, Malik Nashad Sharpe, Daniel Brathwaite Shirley and Krishna Istha remind me that although it can sometimes feel lonely being an artist of multiple historically erased identities, that there are other amazing artists surrounding you pushing work and dialogues into the open.
You are a figurehead for the trans and non-binary community appearing at many events. What have you learned through your career in public speaking?
I think there are so many amazing trans people in the community to look around and take advice and tips from. Trans folk like Munroe Berdgorf, Shon Faye, Kuchenga and Charlie Craggs surround me in a sense of remembering we are part of wider movements, of collectives, of more than one voice. When I remember and consistently tell myself I am not the only one, it eases some of the pressure. All I need to do is say my truth, say how I feel it, and as its authentic, it will feel right. I’ve learned so much from travelling across the world with my work in the last two years, mainly of the collective strength (and struggle) of the trans community – and how much more work needs to be done.
When I remember and consistently tell myself I am not the only one, it eases some of the pressure. All I need to do is say my truth, say how I feel it, and as its authentic, it will feel right. I’ve learned so much from travelling across the world with my work in the last two years, mainly of the collective strength (and struggle) of the trans community – and how much more work needs to be done.
What advice would you give younger people exploring their gender?
I would say: breathe, it is allowed to change, fluctuate, disappear and reappear. I would say: there can feel like there is lots of rules, but there isn’t, only you know your gender and how you want it to be. I would say: exploring is really fun and I encourage it, but it’s also ok to be scared.
What are your favourite London haunts?
I love to eat at Silk Road in Camberwell, go dancing at any night by Pxssy Palace or BBZ, always love watching some badass queer performance or live art at VFD in Dalston – and relaxing is always in my garden with my flat mates and our cat.