Within her work, Miss Kenzo follows the logic of the negative; orienting us to more vulnerable - and uncomfortable - ways of being. Miss Kenzo is the "Southern Belle from Hell": she is a afro-Latina trans multi-disciplinary artist, model and musician based in New York. Immersing us in her world, Miss Kenzo's work is a mediation on the counterintuitive connections between the unpleasant and negative and their disruptive potential.
Raising a set of questions, the work of Miss Kenzo vexingly asks: Will we be forever bound to the complexities of interpersonal relations, or will we shed our flesh and finally enjoy our carnal pleasures? Though I cannot begin to answer this question, Miss Kenzo's work can bring us a little closer to the spaces that exist in-between: to the variable, unpredictable, and poignant places of our own embodied particularities.
How long have you been living in New York? I understand you've spent some time in Texas recently, what made you come back?
I have been in NYC since the summer of 2017. It's wild because I tried living out here immediately after graduating high school in 2014 and was only here for a month because it was all too much for me. Much like when I was younger, I soon became super overwhelmed by the city that once allured me with its grit and fast pace. Leaving after having dealt with the brutal winter was necessary for my growth as not only an artist but as a human. Returning back to the South helped me hone all the skills the city made feel impossible to acquire. It was very quaint at points but I was always brutally reminded of how I'm perceived as a trans woman of color in a southern context. The impact and unwanted attention my transness has in the South made it so that although I was making work, I was even more agoraphobic than I was in the city. NYC, while also equally dangerous, holds space for me in my career and my identity as well.
You have a numerous amount of mixes on SoundCloud, what have you been working on lately?
I am currently working a few mixes for some very cute labels but leaning towards doing more original production. I'm currently trying to work toward an LP for sometime next year in the spring. As I navigate through these difficult situations in life, I acquire different concepts for sounds that attempt to represent the unhinged/complex nature of the afro-latina trans woman. Developing my sound is stressful at times but altogether enlightening!
As the "Southern Belle from Hell", your musical and artistic endeavours seek new dissonances; more creative, unpredictable forms of being in the world. In other words, are there specific themes or narratives - fragmented or coherent - you explore in all your creations?
Yes, of course! I feel like an overarching theme of my work involves opening up conversations around the multifaceted experience of the disenfranchised individual. I am a firm believer that not one person is left unaffected by the world around them, especially trans women of color. Both my music and visual art toy with the concept of accepting the darker, underlying aspects of one's self. Nowadays folks mostly use social media to present the best side of themselves, all the while being in total denial of the darker side at play. I feel like accepting and addressing these aspects is key in making significant personal growth and discoveries.
You have a particularly strong presence on Instagram, what is the importance of Instagram for your own self-representation? I think your posts present a challenge for people to relate to virtual space in new ways.
They do in many ways! The goal of my posts is to get the observer to question the nature of the constructed reality around them. By de-conceptualizing our concept of reality, we are able to grasp the unpleasant yet necessary lessons that helps us comprehend our place on this plane of existence and beyond.
Do you think your edited Instagram photos - ones with surrealist antics - present a possibility for a radical critique; maybe towards something like freedom from interpersonal relations and individual-carnal subjectivity? Given this, what goes through your mind when creating these images?
When creating one of these images I usually first ponder about the narrative I'm trying to get across. While some posts are darker than others in context, I can't help but feel like they all help in opening up narratives of freeing ourselves from the chains of our perception. As a model, many times I'm never in control of how I'm being seen or represented. By grabbing these images and altering them, I'm in a way regaining control of my reality by distorting it to the point of recognizability.
How did you get into modelling?
I have been good friends with my casting director, Walter Pearce, since the tender age of 16. They brought me onto their agency, Midland, as soon as I decided to finally make the move out here. I always thought fashion was super interesting as a kid but never thought I would ever get the opportunity to make a name for myself in such an industry. Having the visibility I have can definitely be tumultuous at times! However, I feel like trans visibility is more important now than ever. The fact that these once limited spaces are now accessible to queer women of color, such as myself, push me to break down the societal narratives constructed around trans women in fashion.
After modeling for Vaquera and Barragan, do you think there are new-and-upcoming brands that working towards transforming conventions or dissolving boundaries in fashion? What else matters besides visibility?
There are many brands out there pushing the boundaries of this antiquated industry. Brands like Vaquera, Lordele and Vasilis Loizides are some to name a few! I would say that one of my many qualms with this industry as a whole is that nowadays people are starting to capitalize on the concept of diversity and visibility. It makes it impossible to decipher who actually cares about you and who sees you as a disposable product. Brands like Gucci and Saint Laurent are casting people of color in mass when they consider it to be most lucrative. Then, at the flip of a coin, revert back as soon as they don't feel like their target audience is buying their product anymore. This isn't limited to larger brands either! It's a lot to unpack because this industry is intrinsically flawed. It sells the appeal of potential money and fame to young, impressionable kids who don't know any better. It thoroughly bothers me that this multimillion dollar industry is a self-fueling fire that chews kids up and spits them out faster than they have to realize what's actually going on. Visibility is nice and dandy but I feel like there needs to be more discussion about these issues. A lot of times people within fashion will be hyper-aware of these things but won't speak on them out of fear of losing their footing in this inherently cut-throat industry. I feel like no true progress will ever be made until we finally address these topics. Only then can we begin to sweep up the mess that has been slowly but steadily building to this very point in time.
courtesy MISS KENZO
interview ALEXA VAN ABBEMA
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