Kama La Mackerel. Photo by Pascha Marrow

A queer cabaret for the post-apocalypse

We spoke to Kama La Mackerel about their Accès Asie fest show.

Kama La Mackerel. Photo by Pascha Marrow

For this year’s Festival Accès Asie, multi-disciplinary artist and writer Kama La Mackerel will be hosting a cabaret featuring young trans performers, whose theme is none other than the end of the world.

La Mackerel spoke to me about these dark times we live in, about their unique and historicized view of reimagining the future and about queer knowledge as survival.

Nora Rosenthal: Could you tell me a little bit about this cabaret that you’re hosting?

Kama La Mackerel: I got invited by Festival Accès Asie this year and they basically gave me carte blanche and I thought of a queer cabaret immediately because I have hosted cabarets in the city for many years. For this one I was thinking of the theme of the end of the world, so Kalyug. In Indian philosophy and schools of Hinduism, Kalyug refers to the last [of the] four cycles to the world, to a time where the resources of the earth are depleted and we are self-destructing, before everything implodes and a new cycle starts again. I was thinking about the current political climate and what that means for queer and trans bodies specifically, and what that means for queer and trans people of colour.

I would add also, all the artists that are performing are young upcoming artists. For a lot of them this is going to be their first professional experience performing in a festival and that was also very important to me because I wanted to create a space where the new generation could speak back in terms of how they are dreaming of the future.

NR: When I think of a dark age and maybe living in a dark age now I always ask myself, has there ever been a time when things were less bleak? Do you think of a time in which things were better?

KLM: I mean yes and no. Even if we’re thinking of sexuality and ways of embodying gender you know I think of the binary itself as a colonial construct and as a tool of colonialism that was used to regulate bodies, right? I have a bit of a joke where I don’t know why everyone’s always talking about the apocalypse all the time because for Indigenous people, for people who have been displaced, for enslaved people, the apocalypse already happened. We are already in the post-apocalypse.

In that sense I don’t necessarily think things are getting darker. For the past 400 years there has been a particular assault on particular kinds of bodies: racialized bodies, queer and transgender bodies and disabled bodies as well.

At the same time I do not think that things are necessarily getting better either. You know I work a lot with youth and I always tell them I’m not going to lie to you. I’m not going to tell you that things are going to get better. But I do think that we get better equipped, that as marginalized people we get to develop our resilience, that we get to develop our relationships, that we get to learn to love differently, to be with community differently. Those are the ways in which we get to reimagine the future.

NR: You talk about a “counter-memory for the future” in your work. Could you touch on that for a moment?

KLM: I think a lot of imagining the future as a relationship to the past, specifically in the post-colonial context or neo-colonial context.

I think there’s a sense of nostalgia for people for who have been displaced, for people who are not connected to their histories or to their cultures or to their languages, where there has been that break in connection with the self. I think for me part of the work is that quest to recreate ways of being in the sense of pre-colonial ways of being, learning to live our relationships in ways other than how a colonial regime or capitalism has taught us.

But I don’t think we can ever recreate the past fully. That’s where for me we inspire ourselves from our ancestors. We inspire ourselves from the past and then we project a different future and that’s why I like that term counter-memory for the future because it brings about the future as a continuum. It connects us on the one hand to the queer and trans ancestors and at the same time it connects us in the present.

NR: Having done other cabarets, what is it about this format in particular that you’re drawn to?

KLM: Oh…there are a lot of things to it! I think the first thing that appeals to me is that there’s something popular about it as in it’s a form of art-making and art-sharing that moves away from the notion of the theatre or the gallery.

You know you don’t go to the theatre if you’re marginalized because a lot of times you don’t feel entitled to it and also it’s expensive. And I like the cabaret format because there’s something that gathers a community together as an audience. I love cabarets because they can be serious, they can be sad, they can be playful.

With cabarets you get to show a variety of artists and a variety of art making. Also, with cabarets historically they’re so tied to queer histories and queer performances in terms of it being the space for gender bending, for queer performers. That’s something that really speaks to me.

NR: You’ve talked about how research really drives your work. For a project like this, what kind of research do you undertake?

KLM: I mean they’re always ongoing long-term multi-year projects and research comes about in multiple ways.

A lot of times we tend to see research as a thing that’s very elitist, as something that happens in universities. I fundamentally believe that knowledge creation and knowledge sharing happens on so many levels, it’s just that they don’t necessarily get visibilized in institutional settings.

As queer and trans people of colour specifically we have always learned to navigate the system, to subvert the system or to find ways to survive and to get by and you know, that’s knowledge. Survival ­— knowing how to go about in a world that’s trying to erase you. You still find ways to exist. That’s knowledge. That’s a form of research even if we don’t frame it as such, even if a university or an archive does not recognize it as such. That’s the kind of research that for me was passed on from my trans elders.

NR: I get the sense from your work that you have a lot of hope and a lot of faith in community. Has that always been the case? Is maintaining hope a struggle?

KLM: I think it’s something that has gotten stronger and stronger for me as the years have gone by. When I moved here as an immigrant to Canada, not having queer community, not understanding race dynamics, there was that notion of, “Oh I would be moving to Canada as an immigrant and it’s the land of freedom where I’m going to find my people.” Which did not happen for many, many years.

As I have been working in the arts and cultural sectors, sometimes in university sectors, sometimes as a community organizer, the more the years have gone by, the part that stays with me and that grows stronger is always the question of faith actually. Faith and the imagination.

I really think it’s important for us to believe in something that’s bigger than us, to imagine a world that is unimaginable. That’s the drive actually. I know in my lifetime I won’t be able to fully create that vision but if I can impact a new generation, even if I can impact five people who also believe in this, I think it’s a way for us to create a different world. So yes, very much so, I do have a lot of faith in the power of reimagining the world. ■

Kalyug: A Queer Cabaret in the Age of Darkness, is happening at la Sala Rossa (4848 St-Laurent) on Friday, May 3, 9 p.m., $10