Steampunk POC: Nivi Hicks (African-American, Spanish, Lebanese)

Nivi Hicks of SLC, Utah. All images courtesy of Nivi Hicks.

By Guest Contributor Jaymee Goh, cross-posted from Silver Goggles

It’s the first Friday of the month, all over again! Time for another steampunk POC interview, and today, Nivi Hicks of Salt Lake City, UT, claims the spotlight! Nivi’s been seen in her Bombay steampunk outfit, and her style threads influences from South Asia and the Middle East. She’s also one of the organizers of SaltCity Steamfest. Without further ado, Nivi Hicks!

How do you do steampunk? Or how do you steampunk or how do you participate in steampunk? Or what steampunk media do you do (lit, fashion, events)?
I’m a steampunk enthusiast and supporter within my community here in Utah. Events, fashions, icons–you name it, I try to support it. I’ve even taken up the reigns with a group of fellow steampunkians to create Utah’s first ever Steampunk Convention, SaltCity Steamfest. Eventually, I would like to expand into fashion as a model more.

When asked “what is steampunk?!” what do *you* say? 
My escape that lets me dress pretty without having to live to a cookie-cutter expectation (like cosplay can do). It’s what happens when you take the industrial revolution, lengthen it, add steroids, a more exciting history and technical output, some lace, and fantasy–va-la!

So tell us your feelings about steampunk in general. What do you think of the existing/canon literature?
Steampunk to me is my outlet, my muse, and my friend. It’s been something I can say in regards to a hobby and a genre of interest I have been interested in for the longest time. I have met some of the most creative people in my life and have been super grateful for them exposing me to even MORE possibilities with steampunk! To them, I will be forever grateful and continue full steam ahead, never stopping until I’m forced to! I think the literature has blossomed since the times of our “Four Fathers.” There is a deepening ditch of creativity that people have dug into and made it a abyss of possibilities. For this I’m elated.

The fashions? 
Have grown to be more than a pinstriped bustle or a ebay’d corset! They are amazingly exciting and even show how people have dug deep into heritage to create something that is who they are when it comes to steampunk. Seeing everything to steampunk’d hajab’s to Hakku with Weird West influences makes me smile so brightly that it’s probably terrifying to see.

The communities that have sprung up around them?
The communities that I have seen in some ways walk different paths. There’s the tight-elitest communities and forums that there is no room for question or failure. The over-laxed steampunk “titled” communities that have so much trolling, gossip, and “hook-up” chatrooms that it just feels like a MySpace gone wrong, and there, finally, are the few, the proud, the middle man that often gets missed due to the massive amounts of the other two communities’ member account, but is very comforting, easy to communicate within, and have fun with. However I’m glad for all of them, because they complete the entire world of steampunk and all offer some bit of road map or base for people to dig even more into what steampunk is or can be for them.

You are of Lebanese descent, and you mentioned that you incorporate Lebanese stylings into your steampunk. Could you speak a little bit more about that? 
Well, my heritage for that is very, very…very far back there, but finding it out made me almost giggle with glee because I love the Lebanese culture but, from what I discovered, is I enjoy it from a more modern-day perspective. I found it a bit too difficult for a novice of steampunk like me to incorporate the historical attire into my wardrobe without doing it from scratch, so I decided to go with a blanket approach with the Eastern world. India, Turkey, and even dabble a bit in Ottoman history. It then became what I felt, more fruitful creative breeding grounds for me  once I started doing a bit more research into what I wanted to bring into steampunk cultural wise.

It strikes me that your non-white steampunk outfits, particularly those tagged “Bombay steampunk,” look mighty comfortable! Do you find there is a difference in wearing a conventional Eurocentric steampunk outfit, with big foofy skirts and all, versus wearing the non-white steampunk outfits which look a lot looser? 
Yes and no. I believe that there are certain items in various cultures in regards to the fashion sense that are just a pain in the butt. Eurocentrics have corsets to tie and Bollywood Babes have Saris…both look amazing when worn, both are a pain to get right!

What is the steampunk scene like in Utah? Where would a new Utah steampunk go to get started? 
The scene here in Utah is growing, growing, growing! I’m proud to see it start to mix itself into the other conventions here. There’s panels on steampunk weaponry, origin, literature, and more. We have local designers, parlors, and tea houses that cater to the steampunk feel now, and even socials were steampunkians get together outside of the convention atmosphere.

When is SaltCity Steamfest? Where were the great challenges in hosting the con? 
SaltCity Steamfest is due to debut July 27-28 and are very excited to put Utah on the map as a Steampunk Convention location. We are bringing out as many guest as we can afford. We are definitly an underdog of our own but, thanks to an awesome team of people, we’re going to do amazing! Anyone interested can check out the website: www.saltcitysteamfest.com

Who are your special guests for SaltCity Steamfest? Any event you think attendees definitely have to check out? 
So far we have the Steampunk Fett himself John Strangeway and Jon Magnifico as confirmed guest. Locally we have a woman who recreates Victorian-themed balls and will be actually hosting our ball at the festival. We also have the renown Damsel In This Dress who will be participating as a vendor, our own Absinthe Parlour Hair Salon and Straight Razor Barber who will be doing shaves on site and, of course, tea time. It can’t be a convention without tea time.

What drew you to steampunk in the first place? 
Like many others, the fashion at first. The costuming aspect of Steampunk Then I dug deeper and found out the possibilities within table top gaming, books, and collectibles.

Table-top gaming! Do you do table-top gaming? If you do, how do you steampunk up your table-top games? 
I’ve never gotten into tabletop gaming outside of D&D, though I heard Warhammer 40k and Dystopia Wars have some bombastic steampunk elements to them.

How did you get into table-top gaming? Are there other black women geeks like yourself in SLC? Believe it or not, my father got me into it! He’s been the supporter of my antiques since day one. As for there being other black women geek-a-licious in the state…oh yes! There’s a good group of us, though we are often spread by distance. They are into gaming, larping, cosplay, and more!

Do you think steampunk is white-washed, as a subculture or fandom? Are there a lot of steampunk POC in Utah? 
I do think that Steampunk started off being white-washed due to where it started springing to life, but I don’t think it could EVER be white-washed completely. There are a good amount of POC here in Utah, but most are very, very shy about their hobbies and nerdoms. I hope to change that, bit by bit.

What do you think it would take for POC to be less shy about their nerdom? 
I think it’s still the line of “is it acceptable for ‘us’ to be geeky.” In many cases, it’s within our own culture where we get the slander on what we adore. A fellow Chocolate Covered Cosplay member, Ashphord Jacoway, though not a Steampunk, expresses a beautiful monologue entitled, “I wish my life was an RPG” that goes through the bliss and trials of being a black girl in the genre.

There is an awesome picture of you on your DA, called “Shoot it” where you’re yelling at a dude with a gun. Could you talk a little bit about the story behind the image? 
LOL, what a story indeed! It’s what happens when your stuck on a roof with a dashingly handsome adventurer and you both have a great sense of humor. This whole idea was due to a planned shoot by a local photographers group who wanted to have Steampunks as their models for one of their meetups. Long story short, the gentleman and I climbed up on the roof of the building and sat there, a bit tired of being overlooked by the half-naked runway models that were clearly…not as Steampunk as one would hope. A photographer walked by and saw us up there, asked us to pose, and the rest is history. We got so many shots of us clowning around that we had to rest JUST to climb back down from laughing so hard.

Have you ever faced negative attitudes towards your non-white approach in your steampunk style? Have you ever witnessed any form of racism or racialized discrimination in steampunk spaces? 
I have not had that happen to me at all, and I’m glad about that. Granted, being in Utah I believe that a lot of people interested in photographing steampunk, gravitated towards the Euro-white aspect of what they “feel is steampunk,” both in dress and in models. I’m glad to “educate them” by presenting my own steampunk aspect to it and, so far, I couldn’t ask for better results. But being the passive-aggressive place that Utah can be, I will say again, I haven’t had any complications arise towards my view of steampunk…to my face. ;)

What would your greatest criticism of steampunk be? 
There aren’t enough people interested in it to the roots. They stay on the surface and just float there, thinking that’ll do when there is just so, so much more to explore! Be unique! Creative! Fun! Don’t just settle for copying what you’ve seen–grab steampunk by its brassy balls and make it your own!

Nivi Hicks is the Director of SaltCity SteamFest in July! Hopefully you’ll get in, because there is a registration cap of 600, so, if you have the chance, check it out!

  • dersk

    “Four Fathers”? Is that a novel or a typo (seriously, I like reading).
    Seems kind of a shame that what to me the interesting intellectural part of steampunk – thinking about how technology affects society and how various events would play out differently given different tehcnology – has been buried under layers of chiffon. It’s a long way from Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson travelling to the land of unborn poets using a ship powered by aetheric vacuum tubes (one of the books in the Steampunk Trilogy by Paul DiFilippo, which pretty much started the genre – VERY good, by the way).

    • Nivi

      Sadly it’s just me and my horrible spelling. I’d also like to edit that due to convention budget and time constraints on some guests parts Mr. Strangeway and Mr. Magnificent will not be the guest this year. Thank you for reading! <3