Through owning my identity, I have moved past having to perform my gender

My names Travis Alabanza and I’m a performance artist that lives in London.

What lead you to becoming a performance artist?

So I grew up in Bristol and I was pretty involved in Youth Theatre and in making theatre as a kid. Um, I think I started my performance work when I just got super bored with what that scene was giving me. It was really white and really middle class. I didn’t really know where myself as a working class black kid would kind of fit into it.

So I just wanted to start making my own work and kind of get on the stage in anyway, so I created my own show, “ Stories of a Queer Brown Muddy Kid’ which was shown at the Stokes Croft Arts Festival and no one really understood it and I really enjoyed that. I loved how messy it was. I guess it all started from there really.

Why performance art?

Performance attracts me because I get to play around. I get to be silly. From a young age I get to play around with gender. One of my earliest memories on stage was playing a witch [um] in a school pantomime. It was the first time I could be in a dress and to be celebrated for being in a dress and applauded for being in a dress.

And I think for me performance has always been about pushing those boundaries of gender and performance . Since getting a bit older I've started living my gender a bit more authentically, although its not necessarily really about that side of it when I perform, it’s still really about playing. Being able to take traumatic experiences and to play around with them, to create healing and stuff like that.

What topics are your work dealing with?

I think naturally I am always dealing with issues of race, gender, sexuality, class just by, like, kind of existing and recently after finishing my show, “Stories of a Queer Brown Muddy Kid’, it was more of a general look of race and gender and was kind of like a younger piece for me.

I’ve really started trying to focus on everyday interactions that I have as a black, trans, feminine person walking down the street. So for me at the moment that is following me to the shops, following me to the club, following me the tube, on public transport and looking at how these everyday activates are for some folks a daily challenge and a navigation for myself.

What is the scene like now for Queer and Trans POC?

I think that so often we talk about all the violence that happens to us but we also have a great queer scene here with great experiences of partying with other queer and trans people of colour.

At the moment I think queer and trans people of colour are absolutely bossing the art scene, the club scene, the music scene we have loads of new nights coming up which is really fun.

But obviously that comes with lots of violence too. My experiences at the moment have been really kind of plaguing me because I’m starting to pack safety outfits in my bag because I’m really, really fucking bored.

Oh, I shouldn’t swear should I?

I’m really fucking bored of street harassment and violence. I’m thinking particularly just before the summer started a chicken mayo burger was chucked at me in broad daylight on Waterloo Bridge. Right in the face. It was kind of embarrassing and… you know it was such a busy lunch time rush and I remember I looked around at all different types of people of all different genders and ages and races. Looking for someone who saw it and for someone to say something and there was just silence.

I think that’s a lot of the experience that follows me around as black, trans, feminine person is this silence surrounding our violence.

You know, I’ll post a status about it. I’ll tell my friends about it. I’ll talk about it. And still we’re all really silent about it. You know?

A mum moved her child away from me on the tube just like… that was in June. Yeah, she moved her child away from me on the tube and tutted at me and it was a really long day and I just said, “what are you afraid of?” and there was silence on everyone’s face and she just picked her child up and moved because her child was staring at me.

And I think navigating that and these daily instances, just walking here today, you know and having people tut at me on the tube and having people look at you. I think that’s like a daily thing that we have to navigate as gender non-conforming people of colour.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m one of the artists in residence at the Tate this year, the big Tate across the.. the old one.

And part of it is I’m going to be running workshops with young people from local secondary schools and, you know what I’ve kind of realised… I’ve just come back from a summer in the states as well working with kids and art, identity and colour and it’s been really interesting because the mum moved her child away but I wonder what would have happened if we gave that child space to interact with me and talk with me because I’m a human.

And these kids, yeah, like their first 30 minutes they’re looking at me and trying to dissect what we are cos the binary has affected them to and they are trying to figure out what is this person presenting something not so rigid of gender.

You give them 30 minutes to ask questions, you give them space and you realise that there is curiosity and a willingness to learn and talk. I think that’s why I love working with kids because there is still that ability to be curious and wanting to talk and maybe from interacting with me [um] the young boys in the room can have examples of masculinity that aren’t ridged. Queer kids can see an example of someone, you know, living and working as a visible queer person.

So yeah, I’m excited for the work at the Tate, I’m excited to work with kids. Queer it the fuck up.

Whats coming up?

I’ve got a lot of shows coming up at the moment as well. So, October is coming up. I always have a joke that October and November are very busy because it’s Black History Month and LGBT History Month. So everyone decides to book you at once.

But I have got a lot of shows coming up there. I’m off to Glasgow to do a residency at transmission gallery as well. I’m working with Asifa Lahore and Lasana Shabazz in the new Scotties Roundhouse piece called, Putting Words into Your Mouth, which is going in November to December and that’s actually a piece looking directly at queer identity in the UK.

So, it’s really exciting to be working with other queer people of colour but also Scottie as a director and an amazing queer artist, yeah.

What's your favourite experience on stage?

I think off of the top of my head, one of my favourite ones… I was doing "Stories of Queer Brown Muddy Kid" at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern and I use like live projection and live sound in the piece and the projector broke and I was freaking out thinking what the fuck am I going to do so I kind of went into this weird mode of performing where I wasn’t really doing anything but that was okay.

In the show I use loads of milk on stage and throw it around. I remember I wasn’t meant to drink all of the milk and… I sold the venue out. So the venue was packed and I remember I accidentally flung open the milk top and all the milk went over the front row of the audience. That was one of my favourite experiences because I thought that the audience were going to be really pissed off but they were really loving the show and kind of screamed and cheered. So it was really nice.

What's your worst moment on stage?

I don’t know. I want to give a jokey story but actually I’ve had a lot of really weird moments on stage I think, which I’m actually making work about at the moment.

I think sometimes how I present everyday life but also on stage a lot of the times I’m in short dresses, I’m high femmed up that when I performing to a majority sis white gay crowd, there’s a lot of "yass’ing" a lot of "queen" and a lot of assumptions that I am a drag artist and I’ll never forget one time I was performing. The audience could be really close to me.

I was doing a piece that could be could be quite a sexualised piece and these two men actually just grabbed me and went onto my leg and started feeling me up whilst I was on stage.

And normally I can shake off anything on stage but I froze, lost my beat and I think I kind of nearly tripped up because I was so shocked and I didn’t really want to continue with the gig.

So that was probably my worst moment on stage.

What have been your favourite collaborations?

That’s really tough because I think like at the moment queer artists are killing it. We are like really making such a lively scene at the moment.

I loved working with Krishna Istha. We did a piece called "Not Your Fucking Rainbow" and it was kind of about taking away the pride from a rainbow flag. That was my first time working with another trans artist of colour that does lots of fun, silly performance work with like a political edge and they do like incredible work.

I think working with Liv Wynter at the Tate was such an amazing experience because we got to perform at the Tate as two working class kids.

It was the first time in ages I got to strip back my work just to poetry and I kind of created poems with Liv who is like an incredible writer but also has the work ethic like of nothing I’ve ever seen before.

She came around my house to do work and I kind of set up like this chill environment because I thought we were going to take it easy and I’ve never seen someone just kind of keep me on track so much. That was really cool.

Who are the people you would like to work with in the future?

I think there are so many artists of colour, queer artists of colour, trans artists of colour in London at the moment who are doing such amazing work.

Victoria Sin at the moment, just finished a 3-day work called "Dream Babes" where they kind of just hosted a queer, trans of colour utopia [um] and I’d love to work with them and with what they do with gender and particularly like talking about race is really interesting.

Lasana is absolutely killing it at the moment with sound...

I love Jacob v Joyce’s work at the moment with illustrations and that kind of makes me really wonder how illustrations could work in my work as well.

I think at the moment in London there are so many artists of colour, queer artists of colour that are kind of paving the way.

Did you know?


of respondents reported family breakdown due to their cross gender identity


of trans people under 26 said they had attempted suicide, while 59 per cent said they had at least considered doing so


of trans people have experienced physical intimidation and threats