Kama La Mackerel is a Mauritian-Canadian multilingual writer, visual artist, performer, educator and literary translator who believes in love, justice and self and collective empowerment. Their practice blurs the lines between traditional artistic disciplines to create hybrid aesthetic spaces from which decolonial and queer/trans vocabularies can emerge. At once narratological and theoretical, personal and political, their interdisciplinary method, developed over the past decade, is grounded ritual, meditation, ancestral healing modalities, auto-ethnography, oral history, archival research and community-arts facilitation.
Kama is a firm believer that artistic and cultural practices have the power to build resilience, to heal and to act as forms of resistance to the status quo. With wholehearted engagement in ocean narratives, island sovereignty, transgender poetics and queer/trans spiritual histories, their body of work challenges colonial notions of time and space as these relate to history, power, language, subject formation and the body.
A theatre practitioner since the age of 15, Kama immigrated to India at the age of 18, and completed a BA in Literature and Cultural Studies at the University of Pune. During this time, they trained in contemporary dance, and Kathak under the mentorship of Pt. Nandkishore Kapote. In 2008, Kama moved to Canada where they completed an MA in Theory, Culture and Politics at Trent University while training in physical theatre with Theatre Korzenie.
Kama moved to Tio’tia:ke (Montréal) in 2012, where they have since developed a multi-disciplinary and community-based arts practice. They are the creator and host of GENDER B(L)ENDER: queer open stage (2013-18), a cornerstone of the Montreal queer performance scene where, over the span of 5 years, they presented 650+ performances from 300+ artists and collectives from Montreal and beyond. They also curated and hosted The Self-Love Cabaret: l’amour se conjugue à la première personne (2012-22), résistance//résidence (2012), Home Invasion: Queers Shaking the foundations of all White Houses (2015), Contemporary Poetics of Trans Women of Colour (2016-18), SPEAK B(L)ACK: a Black History Month Spoken Word Show (2016-19), Voix et Résiliences (2019) and Qœur-à-Qœur (2020). In 2016, was named one of 9 artists whose work is making a difference in Canada by CBC/Radio Canada.
In 2012, alongside artist and illustrator, Elisha Lim, Kama co-founded 2-qtbipocmontreal, an arts collective that sought to visibilize art practices by queer and trans artists of colour in Montréal. 2-qtbipocmontreal later became the Qouleur Festival and ran between 2013-16. Kama has been an artist mentor with the AMY Project (Artists Mentoring Youth) in Toronto since 2017, and is the founder and Artistic Director of Trans Gemmes: the AMY Projects Creative Mentorship Program for Trans Women and Trans Femmes (2017-20). In the Spring 2017, alongside Nikki Shaffeeulah and Aliyah Jamal, they co-designed and co-facilitated Parallel Tracks, a national training program in community arts facilitation for racialized artists. Between 2017-19, Kama designed and directed Our Bodies, Our Stories: a qtbipoc writing and performance mentorship program with Project 10 in Montreal, and mentored 40 emerging queer and trans artists of colour aged 18-25.
Kama has been the recipient of multiple residencies to deepen their research and practice, including at the Robert’s Street Social Centre in Halifax (2015); the P. Lantz Initiative for Excellence in Education and the Arts McGill University (206-17); the Alliance Program of the MAI, Montréal, Arts Interculturels (2018-20); the SummerWorks Lab Residency in Toronto (2020); the Incandescences educational archives residency at the PHI Foundation, Montreal (2021) and the Salon 58 Residency, Mandoline Hybride, Gaspésie (2022). They have also been the invited critical writer at DARE-DARE, Montreal on the subject of translation in 2021-22 and the critical thinker and artist on decoloniality at Espace Perreault, Montreal in 2021-23.
Kama published their debut poetry collection, ZOM-FAM (Metonymy Press) in 2020. The book was widely reviewed by publications including Brown Girl Magazine, Arc Poetry Magazine, Xtra, CBC Arts, Canthius, among others. World Literature Today described the book as “a milestone in Mauritian literature.” ZOM-FAM was named a CBC Best Poetry Book, a Globe and Mail Best Debut and was shortlisted for the Quebec Writers Federation Concordia University First Book Prize and the Writers’ Trust of Canada Dayne Ogilvie Prize for Emerging LGBTQ2S+ Writers and won the Author of the Year award at Gala Dynastie.
Kama’s other literary work in English, French and Kreol has been published in literary magazines such as Lettres Québécoises, Mœbius, Ellipse Magazine, Canadian Theatre Review, Carte Blanche, as well in the anthologies Glitter & Grit: Queer Performance from the Heels on Wheels Femme Galaxy (Publication Studio), We Mark Your Memory: writings from descendants of indenture (University of London and Commonwealth Writers), Self-Care (Hamac) and 11 brefs essais queer (Hamac).
Their works of literary translation include of Kai Cheng Thom’s children’s books From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea (L’enfant de fourrure, de plumes, d’écailles, de feuilles et de paillettes, Éditions Dent-de-Lion) and For Laika: The Dog who Learnt the Names of the Stars (Pour Laïka: La chienne qui a rencontré les étoiles, Éditions Dent-de-Lion) and Kai Cheng Thom’s novel Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars (Fèms magnifiques et dangereuses, Éditions XYZ). They have also translated Vivek Shraya’s essay I’m Afraid of Men (J’ai peur des hommes, Éditions du Remue-ménage) and Valérie Bah’s short story collection Les Enragé·es (The Rage Letters, Metonymy Press).
Kama’s visual and performative work has been presented work in Montréal in venues such as The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, La Centrale Galerie Powerhouse, articule, MAI (Montréal, Arts Interculturels), Fonderie Darling, Monument National, Studio 303, Studio XX, McGill University, Concordia University, UQAM, and at festivals such as MOMENTA, Biennale de l’image, Af-flux: Biennale transnationale noire, Off the Page, Sisters in Motion, Festival Phénomena, Festival SOIR, HTMlles, Qouleur and Festival AccèsAsie.
On a national scale, they have performed and exhibited across Canada including at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (Toronto), The Khyber Centre for the Arts (Halifax), Carleton University Art Gallery (Ottawa), Verses Festival of words (Vancouver), La Maison de la Littérature (Québec), Galerie Sans Nom (Moncton) and at Winnipeg’s Black History Month.
Internationally, they have presented their work at venues such as The Point of Order Gallery (Johannesburg), Cooper Union Gallery (New York), Burlington City Arts (Burlington), Yale University (New Haven), The Hackney Attick (London), The School for New Dance Performance (Amsterdam), the Schwules Museum (Berlin) and Galerie Confluences (Paris).
In 2021, they were awarded the Canada Council for the Arts Joseph S. Stauffer Prize for emerging and mid-career artists in Visual Arts and in 2022, they are presenting their solo exhibition Who Sings the Queer Island Body? at the McClure Gallery, Visual Arts Centre, Montreal.
Kama was born in Mauritius, in mixed-race Kreol (afro-descendent) and Tamil family, part of a lineage of Slaves and indentured labour who were displaced onto the plantation island. Growing up at the interstice of two ethnicities, two religions and three languages, and being “zom-fam,” (i.e. man-woman or transgender), Kama occupies multiple hybrid spaces, journeying across bodies, lands, cultures and languages, seeking a place to call home.