London-based Travis Alabanza’s creative practice involves writing words and performing them. Their work has consistently challenged the distinguished art world from an artist residency at the Tate to starring in the acclaimed theatre show Putting words in your mouth at the Roundhouse. Travis’ unapologetically clear and poignantly, personal voice is working towards a new theatre show, Burgerz, debuting October 25 at the Hackney Showroom.
Speaking to It’s Nice That, Travis explains that their socially-engaged practice is about how “as a Black, Trans, gender non-conforming person, a lot of my work is about screaming for understanding, whilst also disrupting what we see in spaces. So often we are invited to spaces that are not safe for us, or we’re shut out of artistic institutions, or only ever added in as tokens — and for so long we are taught to be grateful for this — but I guess my recent work is about disrupting gratitude. Disrupting politeness”. This is seen in Travis’s performance at Tate Britain last year entitled, Left Outside Alone, which challenges gratitude by saying, “I don’t need to thank you for being in this space, you are lucky to have us here”. The performance marked a big event for Tate Britain on their recent exhibition Queer and Now, with Travis explaining how “I thought the exhibition lacked a lot of diversity and was pretty stale, I didn’t want my black body to be used to rectify their diversity problems. So I created a piece and performance protesting that. A lot of people were annoyed, but also a lot of queer folk cheered and rejoiced”.
For Travis, performance art is a way to create visceral responses, “the act is temporary — but the potential for longstanding emotion is high”. The notion of performance has always influenced Travis, from cabaret to fashion, as “performance feels accessible,” says Travis. “I think as a queer and trans person, we learn to perform from a young age,” they explain further. “Perform straightness, perform our gender to stay safe — the stage was a place where I could unleash all the things I hide on the street”. Travis’ work is injecting the whitewashed art world with an honest and contemporary account of their lived experiences. Their work is carving new routes for a new generation of artists who aren’t afraid to question the status quo with inspiring voices that personally reflect their identities and experiences that aren’t well represented in mainstream culture.
Travis’ work is research-heavy, for their new show, Burgerz, Travis has been writing and documenting what it means to exist in public for a Trans person for the past two years. However, the artist’s new show pays particular attention to the relationship between the performer and the audience. Travis reveals how “_Burgerz_ follows the moment someone threw a chicken burger at me in broad daylight. It looks at what happens to someone after an incident like that, but also aims to look at the people that carried on walking past… The show is less about saying ‘poor me’ and more about ‘where the fuck were you?’. Audience is a key reflection in my work, I enjoy the push and strain of our relationship which is evident in Burgerz. Just how far does our alliance extend? How can performance be a tool in creating real moments of protection?”, questions Travis.
Ever-insightful, Travis spoke to us about the steadily increasing visibility of trans artists challenging, “is that really progress if we can only exist in certain modes? We are often brought in as an end point, or a mode of debate, or we are expected to create work in a certain way. Much like many marginalised artists, the parameters in which we are allowed to exist as artists still hold certain rules, and I guess Burgerz is about saying: what happens with I follow none of those rules?”
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.