“L’identité est toujours une opération imaginaire” said celebrated non-binary surrealist artist Claude Cahun, which translates to ‘All identity constructions are a process of the imagination’. Binary opposition of male and female is a culturally learnt image that attempts to force us from birth into gendered boxes. Richie Shazam is amongst those of us who are saying enough is enough.
It is long overdue that society accepts we are all unique individuals whose identities are not dictated by the body we are born into. Non-binary visibility and conversation is paramount to bringing about this change. I talk to Richie Shazam, who is walking for Vivienne Westwood and Andreas Kronthaler, Misbhv or Ashish, featuring photography in Vogue, and has previously performed in Zuecca Project Space (Italy).

Richie provides us with a photography series conceived with best friend and collaborator Briana Andalore. Their friendship is driven by their mutual passion to express body positivity and resilience. Both New York City natives have “uplifted each other through the good, bad and ugly”.
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Give me three words that reflect how you’re feeling today.
Introspective, spontaneous, unafraid.
In a recent interview, when asked to describe yourself, you responded: “I’m a multi-hyphenate renaissance woman”. This seems to me like you were laughing at our society, which is often keen to categorize people’s identities. Why do you think some people struggle to understand our non-binary reality?
I transcend the gender binary. I do not fit into any categorization and I want people to lean into discomfort. It is essential for growth and dialogue. I am constantly evolving and having an active engagement through the arts and the street. Through my lens, I am capturing the intimate moments I am experiencing with the world at large. I am putting into play my curiosity and knowledge of the unknown. I want to dispel any notions or preconceived notions of how someone may envision me and showcase all of what I can.
As a feminine-presenting person of colour, you are someone who is likely to experience violence in daily life, regardless of your success. Can you talk to me about manifesting your identity as a form of activism?
I do not consider myself to be an activist. I am just being myself, and through connecting with the world in both IRL and URL spaces, I want people like myself to uncover their own agency to be their authentic selves. I am always aware of my surroundings; being born and raised in New York City, I was taught to always look over my shoulder. I am hyper vigilant about safety in whatever spaces I am in, as I find myself at unease, discomfort and vulnerable.
You released a gorgeous photography series with Vogue of your experience at Pride. Despite non-conforming people receiving support on large media platforms and getting their stories heard, the political reality in the United States is still shocking. Trump is planning on passing anti-trans laws that force people to define with the gender assigned to them at birth, and the majority of states have no laws in place to protect LGBTQ+ residents from discrimination. What can we do to stand up to these political dangers?
It is essential for us to come together and voice our disdain of the political realities in the United States. We need to speak with one another and create actual safe spaces where we feel comfortable and protect one another. Outside of creating a dialogue solely with the LGBTQ+ and creative communities, we need to come together as a society at large. Even if it is on a small and local level, we can create a message that will transcend and show our power and strength.
“I want people to lean into discomfort. It is essential for growth and dialogue.”
As someone who transcends boundaries in life and work, unsurprisingly your artwork is multi-disciplinary: photography, performance... Have you got any shows coming up, and are there any other forms that your art manifests itself in?
I am continuing to grow and express myself through more mediums such as curation. Through photography, I am able to capture spontaneity and genuine vulnerable moments that illustrate the human condition.
You have mentioned watching beauty tutorials online as something you find soothing. What self-care do you enjoy practicing IRL?
I enjoy getting lots of sleep! Meditation and surrounding myself with a strong support system that uplifts my spirit.
You recently walked for Palomo Spain – it seems like you’ve had a great time during New York Fashion Week in general. I love this brand that has been questioning definitions of menswear since their first collection in 2015. Which brands do you think are starting the most exciting conversations now in 2019?
Carly Mark’s Puppets and Puppets, No Sesso, and Thom Browne are three theatrical brands that are pushing the envelope in upending gender norms.
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Women in your life, including your mother who passed during your adolescence, have been a source of strength and inspiration. Who else do you draw strength from?
I draw inspiration from people within my community who are struggling with navigating the cards that life has dealt them.
Alok V Menon, a non-binary writer, artist and activist pays homage to their Indian heritage through bright, creative outfits. In your Instagram bio, you call yourself a “NYC Bollywood Princess”. Does Bollywood influence the way you dress or is it more an attitude?
Bollywood is an attitude. When learning traditional Indian dance, one’s eyes must express each of the following emotions equally: lust, innocence, loss – and a variety of other emotions are apparent in my physicality.
I would describe your style as futuristic glam. Personally, I am not a fan of the hugely popular slogan ‘the future is female’ – in my mind; the future is non-binary, non-conformist, anti-labels. Would you say fashion could be a tool to make this possible?
Yes, absolutely! It already is happening and progressing. Fashion is where it starts and the trickle effect happens in cinema, television, etc.
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