I first heard of NIC Kay last year when a friend of mine showed me a video of them loftily vogueing. I’ve seen many a person do hand performance, but NIC displayed a fluidity and coolness in their style.
Fast forward a year and a friend request, and I have been exposed to the radiant energy that is NIC Kay, a Bronx-based performance artist whose work incorporates movement to display identity. When I watch NIC perform, there’s a joy that’s ever-so-present. As a fellow Black performance artist, you’re always subjected to very whitewashed notions of what performance art is. NIC breaks that construct in a jubilant fashion.
Recently I got to ask NIC a few questions to bring more people into their world.
What inspired you to start performing?
I have always been performing. As a lil blk girl, I learned to walk and I learned how to hold an audience. It was important to know for my survival how to use “attention” in my favor.
I formally started studying and pursuing art as a way of relating in the world around nine years old, as I began to battle with anxiety and depression privately and publicly. I was in Catholic school for ten years and it was a nightmare for a lively, inquisitive spirit like me. I found inspiration, escape, and hope in movies, music videos, and theatre, which allowed me to imagine worlds beyond school, the Bronx, and feeling painfully alone.
What artists inspire you to create?
I am generally inspired to create by a need to answer a question or process an emotion.
After Trayvon Martin’s death in 2012 and Islan Nettles’s death in 2013, I was compelled to think more intentionally about my Black queer femme body as a performer and in relation to being in the street. I was inspired to use public spaces as a way to process grieving and intentional resistance. I wanted to use the sort of negative attention my existence garners in the streets of Chicago and New York to start a performative conversation.
I am inspired by the dance videos Black people in the diaspora share and post online.
I am inspired by the racial and gender justice work done by groups like BYP100, Southern Fried Queer Pride, and Black Lives Matters chapters around the US.
You're a Black queer femme creating in a white and male dominated field. Have you encountered white critics not "getting" your work?
I identify as a Black Queer Femme Gender Non-Conforming person. Existing in a white male dominated art field I have encountered lot of white artists/critics that choose not to “get’ or honestly engage with my work and practice because it seems to threaten in some way their relevance. I also strongly believe that white artists/critics very often aren’t doing their homework and expect you to provide cheat sheets. It’s like, please read about art history outside of the white cis male western canon. Please take a visual critical studies class or a postcolonial studies class or something. It is too easy for these groups of people to either dismiss or passively consume Black queer art without actively engaging with the content historically and in real time.
Is it hard to find others and community as a Black performance artist?
Social networks have made the creation of Black Arts community both effortless and abstract. I have in the past four years made a lot of friends on Facebook who are Black visual and performance artists living all around the world. We don’t share time zones and I haven’t met many of them IRL. Yet I do benefit greatly from being able to share my work and see their work online. I think the abstract part is how these online relationships articulate themselves in sustained support for a lasting and/or growing career and the sharing of non digital resources.
A lot of your work involves dance. What importance does dance have to you?’
I am a mover. I don’t refer to myself as a dancer because I’m not so interested in the aesthetic of the movement or am studied in particular styles of dance.
I am interested in the symbolic nature of the performative act of moving ones body.
I am deeply invested in and often obsessed with the act and process of moving, the change of place, production of space, position, and the clarity/meaning gleaned from the shifting of perspective. My practice is rooted in harnessing the power of movement as a mode of reclamation: of the body, story, identity, and truth. Movement/dance has been a tool throughout the African diaspora to live in the moment despite the grave oppression and violence Black people have and do experience which can break the body and soul. This history is why movement/dance is at the center of my practice as an artist. I move to practice getting free.
Where do you see yourself going with your art in the next five years?
I love this question! I always have. I see my art in five years being deeply connected to Black liberation struggles that are building futures prioritizing disabled, femme, gender non-conforming, trans, and queer people. I see myself developing radical kids programming like Sesame Street in the 70s. I see my art being talked about alongside the greats in performance and art history. I plan to publish several books, show work on Broadway, and in spaces around the world. I want to work with the United Nations.
I see myself making art always with. . .
“It is our duty to fight for freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” - Assata Shakur
. . . as my motivation and as a reminder of the power of collective action. A reminder that I do not create alone and that my success alone does not equal liberation/change for Black people.