- Erkan Affan in Conversation with Travis Alabanza and Malik Nashad Sharpe
When I was approached to write for QED, I immediately thought of using this opportunity to both draw attention to and academically archive the words of two Black, trans artists for whom I have huge respect: Travis Alabanza and Malik Nashad Sharpe. Academia has always shaped much of how I've been able to empower myself as a person of color, but I frequently see the erasure that we as racial minorities still experience within the realms of its discourses. Our works and our words need to be archived and be accessible in virtual and physical libraries for generations to come—something that many of us navigating the world today still have to fight so hard to achieve. As a result, I use my access to this wonderful journal to invite these two artists whom I have the privilege of knowing to share some insight into the world of their works.
Below, you will find that I have asked both Travis and Malik three questions on particular pieces they have created that have proved to be timeless and provocative insights—through the mediums of art and performance—into what it is to be Black, trans, and an artist producing works within society today.
Travis, perhaps one of your most notable productions has been your show "Burgerz" that has toured around the UK, Europe, and most recently, Brazil. As a nonbinary person of color, I watched this performance at Hebbel Am-Uffer when you visited Berlin and was blown away by the strength and honesty you brought. What motivated you to create this groundbreaking production that nearly sold out all of its shows, including the Southbank Centre's Purcell Rooms in London? [End Page 98]
Well, I think in everyone's discussions of "Burgerz" it is often forgotten that this show is called that name due to someone throwing a burger at me and calling me a "tranny." If the show was ONLY about that, it would still feel like enough to write against. In research for "Burgerz," I found that out of the 190 trans people I sat down with to have burgers and chips, over half of them also had food thrown at them. "Burgerz" was a cry for us to be able to walk outside. So much of trans politics gets lost in theory, in debates around our spaces, identities, pronouns—and whilst all important—so many of us can't even walk outside without fear of violence. The UK didn't have a recent show on mainstream platforms archiving this—and for me, "Burgerz" needed to be that. It was made the same year that hate crimes in the UK against trans people tripled. It was made at the same time of a surge of anti-trans rhetoric. "Burgerz" felt like a literal tornado in a storm someone else created. For too long the UK arts (and the wider society it represents) has ignored the contributions of Black trans people—or has talked to us about what we experience, rather than given us the space to make the claims for what we do experience. "Burgerz" therefore felt like a talk back. They could not ignore the conversation. If I was successful in my aim (which was to bring this narrative away from just queer clubs and into "traditional" institutions) then I knew that wider UK society would have to take note.
Particularly regarding healing too, what roles has "Burgerz" played in your life as a Black, trans artist today?
As I mentioned, "Burgerz" stems from violence. But on stage, I am experiencing power, control, humor, and sweat. Every night I got to invite a white man on stage to cook a burger with me—and through the craft of the show—HE was visible, not just me. I loved it. I still to this day have not found a piece of work that makes me feel what "Burgerz" does. It was challenging, but I felt in control. I was healing in the sense...