Why did you make lil BLK?
I love Whoopi Goldberg, and I had just started to understand the world of performance art via William Pope. L. So I decided to do some performance with the cotton where I walked around my hood at the time in Harlem with my friend/collaborator/photographer yannique hall and do a durational interactive performance walk.
After these performances I began developing and writing a one person show about the conversations I had with folks while carrying the bouquet around NYC. At this time I also started to be invited to perform in public not on the street. So I began to explore themes from the show. I started performing a piece called Wonderful about private moments of breakdown in public spaces. This is when lil BLK was born. I quickly decided after moving to Chicago in 2011 to devote an artist book to the cotton experience and dedicate more time to developing a show about breakdown.
That’s how it started really. I was really interested in processing my experiences as a black, queer, female-bodied person who later in the process started to claim my gender variance, my feminine and my masculine, my otherness, my cuntyness. I had been a gayby in the New York scene and was raised in the kiki culture of LGBT youth organizations across the 5 boroughs in New York. These experiences with voguing beats + old house beats gave me the first glimpse of what it meant to transcend the body. I used this early awakening as the foundation of how I’d format and explore my black femininity in lil BLK.
I made lil BLK to talk to my younger self aka NICKY. I wanted her (she likes feminine pronouns) to know that I loved her and that she was finally gonna get the audience and applause she worked so hard for. The little black girl who felt too small to be as great as her wildest dreams. The little black girl who was taught to practice being invisible as to not get in trouble or make other people uncomfortable. I know I am not the only person who has been waiting there whole life for a particular movement of release. lil BLK is my coming out/my kiki/ my protest/ my testament.
We hear a lot about how "Brooklyn" is a global brand today. What does it mean for you to rep the Bronx?
But if it wasn't for the Bronx
This rap shit probably never would be going on
So tell me where you from
Uptown baby, uptown baby
We gets down baby, up for the crown baby
"Deja Vu (Uptown Baby)"
Lord Tariq ft. Peter Gunz
I was born in the Bronx. I’m not gonna front. I’ll keep it 100 because I’m proud of my borough. What folks from out of NYC don’t know is that the whole city is lit. haha I'm talking shit but for real growing up in NYC every borough had something, some history to be proud about. Brooklyn is great; my Dad is from Brooklyn. The whole African American side of my family was raised in Bed Stuy. I lived between BX + BK.
But with that said I think there is a certain hustle that I had to grow as a young weirdo in the Bronx. And I mean far Bronx not South Bronx like Intervale off the 2 train. I lived off of 226 on the 2 train, Gun Hill Road on the 5 train. If you from the Bronx you get me. This wasn’t 30 minutes to Times Square. I took my 1 and 30 minutes to get to school. This is Coop City. This is a two fare zone to get home.
When I first moved to Chicago it was very familiar because of this hustle. Access the hustle I was always so far away from where “things were happening”.
What is "cunt" to you?
Cunt is my black queer gender non-conforming femininity oozing from my pores. It is me stacking claim to my independence. I also practice a type of vogue femme which is called soft + cunt. A slower sensual style that is powerfully seductive + playful.
Which city most welcomed the piece and why?
Chicago of course! I got to Chicago with a serious plan for my career + some contacts and I made people believe in my concepts through consistency and confidence. There are a lot of supportive established artists in Chicago who were and are willing to share and teach. This was not happening in NYC for me. The artistic community in Chicago nurtured me and this project from day 1. That's not to say it was easy but folks had my back.
Were there differences in how your performances were promoted?
Every show is promoted via social media and email blasts. In some cities I have more contacts so that helps but, yeah, I at this point don't have too much institutional support in promoting but its not a hindrance. Folks want to see the work, so I just have to make sure they know it is happening.
How is the show changing?
I'm thinking bigger and more specifically as I continue to perform. How can I push my audience further? How can I make them more invested in the narrative? Sonically I have gotten more interested in producing original scores for the show so that's in development.
What have you learned about yourself as an artist while developing and touring l' BLK?
I am willing to sacrifice for my work. It is okay to say no when people don't want to pay you. And that I deserve to have a sustainable and supported career.