Not only are you featured in our first-ever printed magazine, The Visibility Issue, but you were the host to our panel talks held during the Visible Love exhibition celebrating 10 years of Container Love. What made you decide to take on the social and political role of an activist?
I can’t really identify with the word “activist”. I believe it’s never yourself, but always other people who give you this label. To me, working toward a good cause is only common sense anyway. If saying that anyone who believes that their people deserve to have the same rights as everyone else does, that black people should not expect to get punched in the face for no reason while walking down the street makes me an activist, then so be it.
Do you remember what was the turning point for you?
Going public was a conscious decision. And it started in 2015, when I published a series of videos called Tariks Genderkrise (Tarik’s Gender Crisis). If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t have gone with this format, because it immediately pushed me into a role I never wished for. At the time I wanted to overcome the stereotype of the feministic gay guy who is into fashion. At the university, I studied gender as well as media studies and I thought this could actually work. I got some funding and convinced myself that if I did a couple of episodes in this format, someone, somewhere up high would notice me.
And they did. I became this cool presenter who is not afraid of politics, and is versatile enough to cover an array of topics. So I landed more and more jobs, most of them coming with political undertones. Then George Floyd died and suddenly, everyone got really interested in black content creators. What a coincidence! That was the moment when I said, now hold on for a minute: are the only things people want to hear from us anecdotes about how we’ve been victims of racism? That’s disgusting. I’m not gonna play along with that. So I stood up, took a step back, and started covering what has always been my passion: fashion. And I’ve been approaching fashion from the aspect of gender. Why couldn’t I wear whatever I feel is right for me, why should I consider what others would find pretty?
In my book, it’s never about what you are wearing, but why you are wearing it. And then you realize, it’s political. It always has been.
Genderless fashion is about dissolving stereotypes, about getting rid of labels that hold us back. Just like our film, Love Has No Label, which explores what labels can do to us and how we can break out of them. What would it take to bring these stereotypes to an end?
I refuse labels, I refuse pronouns, I refuse anything that forces a person into a box of a stereotype. But I gave up on the idea of an optimal world. It’s a utopia. Our words express the realities we are living in, and although the distance between these realities can decrease, it’ll never get fully eradicated.
Labels can prevent you from reaching your full potential or having your talent recognized, and putting yourself out in the world. You deprive yourself of the things you’d love doing, only because you think going ahead would make you into something in other people’s eyes. Admit it or not, to a degree we all are influenced by the norms of society.
Think about it. For a long time, I was hesitant to pick up learning ballet, because I was afraid that it would make me exactly who they said I am. Just think about how many youngsters choose not to do something they might be extremely talented at. This should stop. We need to use our own resources and tell these kids that every idea about themselves that makes them feel like they are going against strangers’ expectations, is a good idea.
“Labels can prevent you from reaching your full potential or having your talent recognized, and putting yourself out in the world.”
You are a podcaster, a fashion icon, and lately also a musician. How did you get your start in music?
To be fair, I was already trying to do music way back in Recklinghausen. When I was 18 or 19, I was taking singing classes, but then, once again, refused to trust myself and my own ambition enough to give music the role in my life that it deserved.
A couple of years ago I reached a point, when I said to myself, this has been a dream of mine for too long, I better make a go for it, because who knows how much longer will I be around. We are speeding through life so fast. It’s pretty much, blink and you miss it. And why pop? Because I get bored easily and I thought this would just the right playground for me to be creative. It’s a good feeling, finally trusting myself enough to do what I always wanted to.
Your EP is called Mutterland (Motherland). Why did you choose this title?
This EP is political. For over two years, I wanted to write songs in German, and I’m not only talking about the lyrics: I wanted to create something that carries a special meaning in Germany. Of course, there is a political aspect to it, but most of all I wanted the EP to be pop and made together with people who are fun. And that’s exactly what Mutterland is.
Of course, being the person who I am, I’m already thinking about what’s next, what are we gonna do now? The EP was in the works for one and a half years and that’s, for an inpatient person like myself, an eternity. With two new, unheard songs still in the pipeline, now it’s time to let this wonderful Baby that I’m so proud of out in the world. I’m trying really hard not to get carried away and just let myself exist in the moment, enjoy this present that we’ve been working so hard for.
I especially love the last song on the LP, a striped down, piano version of Mutterland, that I played live together with Hallelujah a little back before it was released. I’m very happy that we went with this one as a closure and I’m curious what Germania will have to say about my Mutterland.
You have an album release show coming up on the 26th. Is that true that you are set to unveil some never-heard songs that are not on your EP?
Well, it’s more of a question of opportunities and time management. For now, we’ll have the EP release show on the 26th together with the wonderful Brenda Blitz to focus on. Seems like the process of bringing out a single, and getting it on people’s playlist has its own, unspoken rules, but since the noise one needs cut through is so loud, I’m thinking of getting a little unconventional and just do it my way, anyway.
As a public figure, you embodies queer strength, while fighting societal dogmas. How would you describe your own safe space?
I usually find peace in the time when I’m alone. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a social person, I love being around people, but I also have a great need to be alone time to time. Probably it’s because when I’m with others, I try to channel my all my energy toward them which is an amazing thing to do, but you can easily drain yourself. I know, I’ve been there too many times.
When I really need to switch off and recharge my batteries, there is no better combination than my bed, and a never-ending stream of movies and series. I love movies, to me, watching something is the ultimate creative way to relax and get inspired at the same time. There is always an inspiring look, a great idea for a future video, or a new story out there that’s worth your time.
Talent Tarik Tesfu, Photography Joanna Legid, Words Christian Ruess
Check out Tarik’s new EP Mutterland here.