Diversity has become a hot button topic in almost all forms of art these days, with fans demanding more representation for groups that have a large presence in society but limited visibility in pop culture.
As the quintessential outsider group, nerd and geek culture is also seeking for more inclusion of its nerds and geeks of color and the LGBTQ community.
In particular, cosplay is an area where, because authentic representation is praised, there is a tendency to discriminate against those who attempt cosplay that is far removed from their own race, gender identity, or body type.
According to New York City based drag performer Erika Klash however, diversity should be welcomed as it makes the entire experience of artistry in geek culture more enriched. I caught up with Erika at this year’s New York Comic Con and talked to her in full drag about her experience with diversity in the cosplay and drag community.
Tara Edwards : Please introduce yourself.
Erika Klash: My name is Erika Klash and I am New York City’s resident video game, anime, J-fashion drag queen.
Tara: How’s your comic con going so far?
Erika : My comic con is great, I’ve been here for maybe like an hour or two. I’m working the booth for Skin Tight USA today and getting ready for my after-party performance at Rock Bar.
Tara: Since you are not only a person of color, but you’re also doing some drag work within cosplay, would you like to discuss some of the issues, themes, or thoughts you have about diversity in cosplay.
Erika: I think for me, I’m at the intersection of cosplay and drag. Diversity comes up a lot in both communities. There’s a lot of discussion about whether we should be representing characters authentically in terms of skin-tone. In the drag community specifically there’s questions like ‘are we going to include drag kings?’ are we going to include female drag queens? Or even trans-women who drag.
My personal feeling on that is that it should be about the commitment to artistry. If you’re putting commitment into your work, it shouldn’t matter. It’s sort of like gender neutral casting in theater.
Tara: So almost like 100% blind casting in this case?
Erika: We are intelligent enough to know what the original character is, so if it’s a man in drag playing that female character or cosplaying that female character; that should be acceptable because we know what they’re trying to embody. Really what it’s all about is the overarching sense of creativity, make-up, hair, costuming, and the expression of the character.
I think we really need to have more discussions about this and we should be pushing the envelope when it comes to diversity because diversity strengthens us. Diversity opens us to new perspectives and new ways of looking at things that we love.
Tara: So tell me about your costume today.
Erika: So I’m doing Link from the “Legend of Zelda,” but again, it’s in drag, so it’s Lady Link. It is one of my favorite costumes to do at Cons.
Tara: What other characters do you like to dress up as?
Erika: I do a lot of different characters. I do Battle Lover Scarlet from “Cute High Earth Defense Club Love.” That’s a male character, that is actually a parody of a female character, “Sailor Moon,” but I’m playing it as a female.
Tara: Very Meta in that way.
Erika: Yes, it’s very Meta.
Tara: Are there any words of wisdom you’d give to your fellow cosplayers out there?
Erika: For artists in general, specifically, drag-folks and cosplay-folks, I would say, really look at the standards of what’s around you and try to actively grow in your art and strive for better. Impose those standards on your work so that you can gag people.
Erika: [laughs] For those who are not familiar with that drag lingo, just do everything you can to amaze people. The harder you work to identify the areas you need to grow in will help you get to the next step, the next character you wanna do. Each character you do, or as a drag queen each number you do, is a different challenge. Always be up to the challenge.
Erika Klash can be found on her official Facebook and Tumblr