Interview with Taka Taka by Mētra Saberova

From February 15 thru March 31, 2024, the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art organized the exhibition All’s Good Between Us. Curated by Andra Silapētere, through ten artist contributions, it was a reflection on how LGBTQIA+ histories are narrated and documented in the local environment and how political and economic affairs and social awareness can impact, change, and stimulate processes. To open and broaden the discussion, the public program, an important nerve to the exhibition, invited artists, researchers, and curators from the Baltic region as well as other countries to share their knowledge and strategies while meditating on questions of queerness, gender, and sexuality. The opening events were two workshops by Taka Taka, a dragtivist, educator, and independent curator who has activated drag as an act of social engagement and turned to issues of sex education and its meaning for both the LGBTQIA+ community as well as broader society.

Mētra Saberova, artist and activist deeply involved in the drag community in the Baltics, talked to Taka Taka about different aspects of their praxis.

Mētra Saberova: Your dragtivist practice encompasses so much; spanning across many years and is deeply connected with and reliant on your community. Could you explain the origins and reasoning behind the active term “dragtivism”?

Taka Taka: The second time I met my drag mother, Jennifer Hopelezz, she told me she likes combining drag and politics because she finds it funny. I come from another background with radical activist parents. The way for me to perform activism was to be confrontational in the streets, for specific types of protests. But in the art academy I could not find space for this type of voice. So I said to Jenny – you know, this has a name – they call it dragtivism. Jennifer, who is also a trained doctor, has a complete practice of drag-activism that was established at first by collecting money in the streets and problematizing the local conditions of AIDS and HIV. This practice also goes back to the Sisters of Perceptual Indulgence, which is a group of drag performers. They have a headquarters, a lot of different spaces, and they have been collecting money for HIV since the 1980s.

So I was thinking, who else is a dragtivist? I think I heard in a podcast that the first people who might have used the word were Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. But at one point I found this very small clip on YouTube from Silvia Rivera that said for three and a half years they used to squat in hotel rooms with a lot of trans girls who were also doing drag, and sex workers, and they would take the room, sleeping as many nights as they could, and they would try to educate each other about how to be in the streets; how to make an extra buck in the show until they got kicked out and then they would go to the next hotel room. And then the next hotel room… And that’s what it means to take up space, what it means to claim a space within a space.

Jennifer combines drag with politics, specifically sex positivity, or let’s say the activism of sex positivity and HIV. I can take the same principle and combine it with education. So for me, dragtivism is a frame where you can combine drag with different local conditions to problematize them and create infrastructures around them. I also had to find ways to start claiming spaces that didn’t exist before. This is why I actually started teaching in art academies, because frankly I missed that when I was an art student, people like me coming in to teach people like me.

So when I was doing my studies from 2014 until 2016, I decided that I was gonna turn Jenny into my case study because she’s the first person to ever establish a drag house in the Netherlands, it was like 25 years ago. When I finished my masters in 2016 I said here, okay, now you can start calling yourself a dragtivist.

Exhibition view. Courtesy of Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art.
Exhibition view. Courtesy of Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art.
Mētra Saberova,“Šļipatas” or Slippers, 2024, textile. Courtesy of Mētra Saberova and Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art. 

MS: I’m going to jump to another question. In your lecture you mentioned the insufficiency of the slogan “We’re here, we’re queer.” Despite this, The Netherlands has achieved more in the way of #lgbtrightsarehumanrights than Latvia or the Baltics. So in this context, what do you demand now from the government, what are its shortcomings?

TT: For me our focus now is a lot on queer safety and PrEP, the pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV. My drag mother Jennifer is the cofounder and chairwoman of Foundation PrEPnu,[1] and right now this project seems to have quite a good momentum. That is our case in the Netherlands. Basically you try to sense what is around and what problems are arising. For example, four years ago we started having a huge problem with taxi drivers. They were not picking us up. We tried with the municipality to make meetings with the taxi companies, and  also asked for them to create an anti-discrimination policy.  A funny story – the ambassador for pride had finished her gig in the main square, gave her political speech and went to take a taxi and the taxi driver said ‘’No, your ass is too big.’’ So imagine somebody who is like 60 or 62 years old doing this for so many years, talking to a big crowd at pride and after they tried to leave, this happens. It’s not comfortable. What is the company gonna say after that? They’re gonna fire the driver. But it’s not about firing the taxi driver, it’s about educating. There’s still a lot of work to be done for this. Now we’re going to have an event where we bring taxi drivers together with drag performers to eat together. It requires a lot of micro actions, you know, because this is not something that can be proven as discrimination. In the Netherlands we have the Roze in Blauw,[2] and I can have a button on my keys so if somebody bullies me or something, I can call them.

MS: Oh perfect.

TT: Yeah, but what can they do if somebody bullies you, because bullying or name calling is actually not an act of violence?

MS: Well yeah, harassment without physical evidence is not strong enough.

TT: Yeah you got it. So what do you want me to do, stay and get beaten up to have a case on my hands? We are still reporting [these acts of aggression]. To answer your question, I think what I try to do now is go back to teenagers and try to create supportive conditions for them because I think they’re gonna need them. So I think that is our focus, but also like so many different trajectories, that’s my trajectory. Jennifer continues with sex positivity in different forms, other people continue with other things. I think it’s more like having your antennas open and taking things in. Sometimes you don’t need to be in a chair, sometimes you need to make the chair into a table –  I think it really depends on the situation.

Rūta Jumīte, Ieva Laube, “The Living Room of Stories”, 2024, installation. Courtesy of Rūta Jumīte, Ieva Laube and Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art. 
Rūta Jumīte, Ieva Laube, “The Living Room of Stories”, 2024, installation. Courtesy of Rūta Jumīte, Ieva Laube and Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art. 

MS: How do you work with organizations regarding HIV prevention? I’m sure there’s also lots of things you have to sacrifice when working with institutions in order to access these channels where otherwise you might not be able to?

TT: I think if it was not for Jenny it might be more hard for us. I want to make a disclaimer here that whoever puts the name HIV in their mouth and has a practice towards that, no matter what they’re saying, including myself, directly or indirectly, we make money through that disease. You know? I do. It’s my main form of activism. I do it for free, but there’s still social capital that I “earn” from this. In our case, Jennifer owns the club ChUrch, and we have an active part in the discussion because we know if new drugs come onto the scene, we know which people are in the scene, we know if people need PrEP. I think it would be very difficult for us [otherwise] but Jenny has a legitimate practice in sex positivity, she also talks about it without costume. I think it could be challenging indeed for doctors of these organizations to understand why a drag performer talks about these things.

So, what happens with sacrifices, this is interesting. I was supposed to open the 24th International AIDS Conference in Montreal in 2022. I know that I have a very particular type of drag, and I know there are going to be people from all over the world, so I want to be sensitive to this. So for me it was not a sacrifice, but about having sensitivity to what type of aesthetics I could have so that nobody in our community would get offended. It’s more about how we can make our point clear and be patient and have the language and say the same thing again and again and again and again. Because we can go to a huge event in Amsterdam where all the politicians give money to collect a million euros so that they can say that by 2030 we won’t have HIV anymore in Africa. But from our perspective, we’re like, why don’t we solve HIV in the Netherlands? Do we have sex education in high schools? No, we don’t. Do we educate about deviant practices? No, we don’t. So now all of a sudden you want to go and help the “poor” country, right?

The people working in the HIV organizations are people that we know very well; we do parties with them. We’re all connected. Usually what was happening was that they were asking my drag mother Jennifer to come and give a small speech. But I also want my sisters to do things at these events and I was like – okay, we’re gonna come for free, Jennifer is gonna do the speech and the group is gonna do a small show. And we’re like 10 or 15 people. That was around 2017. We started working closer together, but I was still doing the gigs for free because mostly they knew Jennifer, and for us it was about the house participation. But that also had adverse effects because I was doing it for free and as we know in our community, free sometimes actually means losing money –  buying the makeup, taking the day off of work …

MS: Taking the cab.

TT: Yeah, taking the cab, paying the cab because the cab is about safety… So what has ended up happening is that we do the HIV gigs together with Jenny. But another friend of mine, a producer of these events, he told me, don’t do that too often because having 15 people doing that for free, you’re actually lowering your market value, even if it’s activism with doctors. I thought it was nice for my sisters to be there but I was actually indirectly lowering the value of the whole market by trying to push up the group, so I stopped doing that. Now we’re getting paid like a default fee. If we do something, we go out together with the group.

Atis Jākobsons, “The Blue Coral Room”, 2024, installation. Courtesy of Atis Jākobsons and Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art.
Atis Jākobsons, “The Blue Coral Room”, 2024, installation. Courtesy of Atis Jākobsons and Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art.
Ingrīda Pičukāne, “The Lives of Felicita (Pauļuka)”, 2024, author’s technique. Courtesy of Ingrīda Pičukāne and Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art.
Rūta Jumīte, Ieva Laube, “The Living Room of Stories”, 2024, installation. Courtesy of Rūta Jumīte, Ieva Laube and Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art.

MS: I wanted to talk about drug prevalence in queer nightlife and PrEP, and what you think about the dissemination of knowledge about PrEP to the general audience? Or should it be like, kept more closely in the queer circles? Because it is sexual education and should be normalized, like the stigma should be taken out.

TT: It’s how like everything can be used against us, you know? A lot of times you start something and you don’t know how it’s going to be used. So I think specifically in the start, you need to be careful and see how far you can go with something. Like, photographs of my drag mother Jennifer with the beard – homophobic or anti-queer people have used it as an example of what could happen to kids when they grow up or something. But what you can do when you have specific projects like PrEP, is bring in a multiplicity of voices before you make the point that you’re going to address. Bring doctors together with activists from different backgrounds and make some meetings first. Have a directive about the point that you want to achieve in the bigger picture, of what you can achieve in the next month. And you also need to be a little bit media trained in terms of what to say and when, because this is an issue that is specific to our time.

Now in 2024, PrEP is something that we know about but in 2016, it was like, but why do we need that? We have condoms. How do we not make it a problem, but make it a reality, how do we make PrEP a reality? You need to have people who can go straight into policymaking. You have other people who can do theatre plays. You have other people who can do interviews. You have different ways of addressing it. And I believe if the groups are a little bit small, when they formulate, they have more of a chance to have a kind of a good directive and a point. And of course, PrEP is being looked at specifically for gay men, but PrEP can be used from all types of bodies.

MS: It’s always all about men, which is fine, but there was a recent article in Latvia’s public media portal[3] about how a big percentage of people getting HIV here are older women who go on vacations. They have gone through menopause so they think it’s fine. They don’t have to worry about childbirth, so then they have unprotected sex and they don’t think about the STDs they can get. Basically in Latvia, HIV is still a gay disease, right? But that’s why these are also the things that should be talked about in the public.

TT: I want to tell you a small fact. If a straight person goes to have an STD test in the Netherlands, they have to go to the general practitioner and pay 150 Euros. If I say that last  night I fucked a trans girl without a condom, they do everything for free. Bonus! You know, it’s kind of inverted. I mean, in the end of the day, I think the government is going to lose way more money treating HIV rather than providing the pill, and I think this is what they are still figuring out.

MS: You have the slogan “end of violence, creation of joy’’ which I want to understand a bit more, because you talked about how you’re very aware that something that works in Amsterdam might not work somewhere else. Do you want to talk more about the regional specificity and international differences in drag and activist communities?

TT: I think the “end of violence, creation of joy’’ can be looked at in two ways: as the violence that others perpetrate onto us but also the violence that we enact within ourselves as queer people. One of my kings was asking me why I bring a person into the group that is a complete bitch to us. And I’m like, but this person maybe also has never felt love from their parents, and this may be the only way that they know how to exist. Maybe this person is insecure? And how do we know if we do not give love to this person? That may change in a year, maybe not. But also we didn’t lose millions here [in this situation], nobody’s gonna lose their home. It’s fine. I think it’s a frame that can be applied not only for looking at others, but also to our community itself.

Annemarija Gulbe, “Coatings”, 2024, installation. Courtesy of Annemarija Gulbe and Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art.
Annemarija Gulbe, “Coatings”, 2024, installation. Courtesy of Annemarija Gulbe and Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art.
Konstantīns Žukovs, “Black Carnation. Part Three”, 2024,  installation. Courtesy of Konstantīns Žukovs and Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art.
Konstantīns Žukovs, “Black Carnation. Part Three”, 2024,  installation. Courtesy of Konstantīns Žukovs and Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art.
Zenta Dzividzinska, “Act. Model Velta Stīpiņa”, 1967-1970, photography and photomontage. Courtesy of National Library of Latvia Art Collection.
Zenta Dzividzinska, “Act. Model Velta Stīpiņa”, 1967-1970, photography and photomontage. Courtesy of National Library of Latvia Art Collection.

MS: We had a discussion some time ago and we came to a phrase “strategic anger.’’  For me, what I do is because I’m angry and I know we’re right, but the doing also results in practical things, right? That’s why I want to understand more about this “end of violence, creation of joy,’’ because I feel like there is a forced smile in there, like when you smile through clenched teeth.

TT: Yeah, it is performative. But for me, joy doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m not going to make my point clear to you. Joy means that I might have to make my point clear in order to be able to create joy. So to end the violence, I think there’s a difference between political correctness and brutal honesty. And I think nobody can counter brutal honesty. So if I keep it together and I didn’t insult you, I can tell you whatever I like. Joy is really about how we can create joy for each other to live in a society that is really fucking us up. Let’s say you talk to long term survivors, they’ve lost all their friends and they’re still doing activism, and they’re like 65 years old, they’re extremely pissed.

MS: In the workshop you said it’s important for you to have created the drag king house, House of Lostbois, because otherwise there’s a lack of diversity, and I think we both can agree that there’s a lot more representation of and visibility for drag queens. So it’s very nice that you wanted to push the drag king agenda. Here in the Baltics I can see that the younger generations who are starting to try drag now, or like a year ago, they go more towards drag quings[4] or drag creatures, so they’re not so much into the binary division, which is also great. Do you see that maybe in Amsterdam, too? But basically this is also a question for you to talk more about your drag character and obviously the costumes you have in your collaboration with your biological mother.

TT: I think if we start by thinking about pre-colonial forms of drag, they were not existing in this type of Christian or binary separation of man and woman, people used to explore. I mean, historically people explored, but they didn’t call it non-binary, but it was still always there, you know? I think somewhere down the line it became simplified, just two forces or two poles, because it was just easier to be controlled. It also has a lot to do with the importance of the nuclear family. So like the man and the woman, and the man represents the state in the family. The man controls the family and the state controls the man. It was very easy to follow that type of logic. My form of drag is not new. It’s as equally old as binary and commercial drag is. It was never in the epicenter because aesthetically it’s a little bit more queer. It asks for another type of viewer, you know?

MS: Yeah, it’s not for the gay best friend girlies, right?

TT: Yes, but also like it’s the same when people talk about RuPaul as like a drag show. I think RuPaul is a reality TV program. And they tried to create drama and very specific stereotypes. There was this situation on the show with having a trans woman. They have lip-sync competitions. Trans women invented lip-syncing. They took gramophones as street queens and started making an extra buck in the 1950s. But what they (the show) want is basically to put an image of queerness out there that is digestible. There was so much of this binary femme type of drag, but it’s an easily understandable form of artistry for somebody that is out, and also for the heteronormative living room. To the mama, the kid, and the papa to stay there and say, look, my kid, what they want to do is to just be another Ariana Grande. The physical form that I apply to drag was also always there, specifically after the 60s when people started taking more hallucinatory drugs and started seeing other types of faces and things. I’m not here glamorizing acid but I think that period played a role. I grew up in a very small village world where queer or non-binary didn’t exist, but I was very good in judo so that saved my ass. And that goes back to the end of violence and the creation of joy in terms of how we can celebrate each other when we don’t have to accept each other. I was really bullied a lot for the way that I looked. As a teenager I had very long hair and because of judo, I had thin legs. I was wearing leggings and hoodies and they were really stopping me in the streets. I have experienced queer phobia, gayphobia, transphobia with not being gay or wanting to be trans because it’s not about what you are, it’s about what they think you are in the street.

When I started drag in Amsterdam I was entering a scene predominantly dominated by gay males. We talked about inclusivity and diversity, but I didn’t see multimodality. I also was missing my friends. So I think I was lucky that I was the art director of the club and I couldn’t find other types of bodies and representations. I had only three – myself and two drag kings – that I could find. One day at a drag lab I asked this trans man how drag kings start? I remember the drag mother of Jennifer gave me my first pair of heels and she told me, okay, now you’re gonna wear them starting this week. She started asking me how they made me feel. Do I like them? There’s something very empowering there. Drag queens have always had the privilege to create through their history. Give things to each other and building on that. I was like, wait a minute, that’s an education. So if these kings don’t have education, they cannot exist because they just go to carnival stores. I can provide drag tools, and I do non-binary drag, so I have a lot of different tools that I can explore with them. But also how can I do that while passing with a male body? I did a lecture about PrEP and a kid named Julius came up to me and said he wants to do an internship, but I don’t do internships because I don’t know what to do with you in an internship. But he was already 21, had started hormones, so he already had a lot of information. And I knew that if I wanted to bring drag kings together, some of them are gonna be non-binary – what if some of them were gonna use it as a first step to transitioning?

Krišjānis Elviks, “Queer Fear”, 2024, interactive installation. Courtesy of Krišjānis Elviks and Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art.
Krišjānis Elviks, “Queer Fear”, 2024, interactive installation. Courtesy of Krišjānis Elviks and Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art.
Konstantīns Žukovs, “Black Carnation. Part Three”, 2024,  installation. Courtesy of Konstantīns Žukovs and Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art.

MS: Because that’s usually the safe space where they can experience this. It doesn’t mean that drag makes them trans, it’s just that this is where they can go.

TT: I was like, yeah, I don’t have the tools for that, I don’t have this experience, I have the drag experience. So that was kind of holding me back a little bit. So I said to Julius, you know, I think what we can do is start a project together. If you want to learn things from me that’s the best thing because we’re going to work together equally, deciding things. Julius had an interest in production, I had an interest in education and we will see how we will operate. Every Thursday before our drag house party, I turn the club into an educational space from six to nine for free. My drag mother back then was saying that if you do it for free nobody’s gonna come. But I’m like, no, my bet is that they’re gonna understand it. That’s all I ask, can your body be present once per week?

When we started, I was very scared. We put this post up and I was like, maybe there is no need from the scene, maybe it’s my utopia? We put up the post and the next day we had 25 messages. We were like, what, just with a Facebook post? And then it went everywhere! I know that I’m fucked for life with these things because I cannot just close my door now and go because what’s gonna happen with these people if they don’t have the space? But I also have to stay in good shape and emphasize the well-being of both the teacher and the student and the drag mother and the drag kid. My interest was always to make the group sustainable, that it’s not a one-off event but somehow it continues. I didn’t know if these people wanted to perform, I just knew that these people might want to come together. I started doing different workshops with them, and that’s as far as I went. They formed the house. Now it’s two generations in and you still need to do a lot of work to break the egos. It’s all about communication. Nobody knew us, we were doing our thing. Later we said, OK, let’s make an event and before we knew it, we started getting so many bookings. I think if we continue existing, we have to think about how we can collectively grow, because the reason they call me their mother is because they know no matter what the weather is outside, every Thursday, I’m gonna be there opening the door for them. They know they have this space and that they can come back to it. Sometimes people go out for some months because they don’t feel very well. But what I know is that it’s important to make sure you continue to open the doors. Because if you stop doing that, the group is going to deteriorate.

Right now I’m going to start a doctorate program in the Amsterdam Theatre School and I’m going to create this system of drag mothering as pedagogy. I had this interview and the last question was how do I think this doctorate is going to advance my career? So I said to her that if this happens right now in the Netherlands, it’s going to open a pathway. Maybe in ten years somebody will come in and make a complete macro education out of it. But for me, I want to focus on micro actions, having more queer education on the inside. A lot of people, including my kids, even if they’re in the same part of the community that I operate in, I would have never ever met them, or never would have been friends with them if it was not for drag. We’re sitting here literally because of our love of drag. And for me, there is something that is very novel and very practical, and also beautiful about this, you know?

Taka Taka, “Mothers Mothering Mothers: Dragging Warmly”, 2024, workshop at the exhibition. 
Taka Taka, “Mothers Mothering Mothers: Dragging Warmly”, 2024, workshop at the exhibition. 

Panagiotis Panagiotakopoulos, a.k.a Taka Taka, is the art director of “Club ChUrch” the godmother of the drag house “House of Hopelezz,” sister for others, mother of the drag king house “House of Løstbois,” proud daughter of Jennifer Hopelezz and co-founder of the non-profit “Drag King Academy Amsterdam.”

Taka Taka identifies as a dragtivist, educator, queer theorist and independent curator who produces performances as the art director for Amsterdam’s sex positive underground night club “ChUrch” since 2013. They were trained as a professional make-up artist, studied Fine Arts at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, followed by a Master in Arts from the Dutch Art Institute. They are currently researching drag mothering as an artistic educational model together with DAS graduate school.

Mētra Saberova is a Latvian queer feminist performance and moving-image artist. Mētra gained her BA at the Art Academy of Latvia and completed her postgraduate studies at Central Saint Martins in London. Next to exhibitions, her interests lie in forming sustainable networks between queer culture and activism in the Baltic region. Mētra is the co-founder and manager of the Baltic Drag King Collective (est. 2019) and is part of the Riga Pride core team since 2022.

“The exhibition and the public program “All’s Good Between Us” is part of the project “Islands of Kinship: A Collective Guide for Sustainable and Inclusive Art Institutions”, supported by the European Union and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Latvia.”

[1] PrEPnu started as a grassroots initiative in 2015 and aims to ensure easily available PrEP and PrEP-related care for anyone in the Netherlands who needs it. PrEPnu informs people about PrEP through outreach at parties, workshops, and other events. PrEPnu also actively lobbies politicians and professionals, helping them to establish a good official system for PrEP.

Information available at

[2] Pink in Blue (Roze in Blauw) is part of the national police network of the Netherlands that is specifically catered for better mediation, support, and reporting on harassment and crimes related to the LGBTIQ+ community.

[3] Apskatīts: 05.04.2024.

[4] Drag quings, similarly as drag things and drag creatures, borrow from everywhere that their imaginations and identities take them, surpassing the already intentionally disrupted expectations of masculinity and femininity performed by kings and queens.

Artists: Annemarija Gulbe, Antti Jarvi (FI), Atis Jākobsons, Eleanore de Montesquiou (EE/FR), Eva Eglāja-Kristsone, Felicita Pauļuka (1925-2014), Ieva Laube, Igors Gubenko, Ingrīda Pičukāne, Jaana Kokko (FI), Kalle Hamm (FI), Konstantīns Žukovs, Krišjānis Elviks, Mētra Saberova, Monta Cimdiņa, Raisa Maudit (ES), Agnė Bagdžiūnaitė (LT), Rūta Jumīte, Taka Taka (GR), Vents Vīnbergs, Zenta Dzividzinska (1944-2011)
Exhibition Title: All’s Good Between Us
Venue: 60A-21 Dzirnavu Street
Location: Riga, Latvia
Dates: 15.02. – 31.03.2024 (extended until 04.04.2024)
Curated by: Aleksandra Samuļenkova
Photos by: All images courtesy of LCCA