We recently talked to steampunk model/enthusiast Nivi Hicks about her steampunk influences, being a model of color, and running Salt City Steamfest.
Midwest BSFA: Tell us about yourself.
Hicks: My mundane name is Nichole Hicks but people know me as Nivi. I’m 29 years old and live in Salt Lake City, Utah, with my amazing son and family and I’m the currently director of Salt City Steamfest. It is Utah’s only running Steampunk convention with four years under its helmet with this year being the fifth. I am inspiring to be a figure in the community as a steampunk model/personality of color and have adopted my brothers Tony Ballard-Smoot, Charles Mason II and my craziest brother, Robert Tongue, who are also working at being prominent figures for positivity in steampunk.
Midwest BSFA: How did you get into steampunk?
Hicks: My friends got me really into it specifically, Michael Mannon whom I call “dad.” But like most, I’ve loved it before I knew what it was called.
Midwest BSFA: Who/what are your steampunk influences?
Hicks: The whos are my steampunk siblings. They’re always so supportive and powerful figures in my life! If it wasn’t for their go for it nature, I would’ve folded due to shyness a long time ago. I’m also lucky to be best friends with the lovely Sarah Hunter who I admired from afar for several years as a self aware, loving, and powerful female presence as a model and public figure. Lastly, my community. Utah has such a stigma due to the local predominant religion and though I can admit to being rather ostracized by those who aren’t really into fandoms at all, the geeks here, especially in steampunk, are some of the most loving and caring souls I’ve come across.
Midwest BSFA: What’s it like to be a model/actress of color in this community? (As a side rant: I’m always kind of disheartened when I NEVER see models of color in steampunk publications.)
Hicks: Can I just say it’s ridiculously harder than need be? Is that fair? The amount of ignorance that is presented to me based on my awesome melanin just floors me! BUT it’s rarely from fellow steampunks. It’s the muggles that have made me facepalm and make me realize even more the importance of our presence in history books OUTSIDE of school systems that have us as the majority.
We (POC models) exist and we are brilliant, bold, and beautiful. We are in leagues of our owns as models and personalities of color, but we are strong allies in promoting community strength, love and growth. We bring ideas and looks to the table that others might of thought impossible. We are exactly what want to be, and for me, that’s proving that representation still matters here, so good luck stopping me.
Midwest BSFA: How do you deal with other people’s standards of beauty being forced on you?
Hicks: This coppery and brassy goodness within such elegant threads of a yesterday today…it’s just so much fun, empowering, and a little bit smexy (do people still use that?), so I refuse to let anyone think they can deny me the pleasure of being myself. I get excuses all the time about not being able to light me so they don’t wanna do photoshoots, or my ever favorite, “I don’t have any models of color in my portfolio so wanna do nudes?” Um, been there, done that. I’d rather look at my friends bodies instead. I mean, let’s get real. The ignorance will always be there, but I can only control my reaction to it, and I choose happiness and nut punching when necessary. I also choose to educated them and if it gets into a pissing match, I walk away. I have too much going on in my life to waste it on people and/or mindsets who don’t as value to it. Period.
Midwest BSFA: How did you come up with the idea for Salt City Steamfest?
Hicks: On a whim and a whole lot of “What the freckle am I doing??” followed shortly after. I’d volunteered at cons before, sure but I wonder how many times did my guardian angel have to resist drinking seeing what I was stepping in with taking the masochistic plunge of directorship.
Midwest BSFA: Why did you want to create the event?
Hicks: I was so tired of just being “cool looking” at other cons. I wanted a community and sense of fellowship, too, that suited my M.O. of geekdom.
Midwest BSFA: How did you get involved with the Steampunk Rock Opera?
Hicks: It was a whim. I was asked by author Paul Genesse to play this space pirate queen which turned more into an improv comedy with a handful of singing numbers. It was an interesting show!
Midwest BSFA: What was your first acting gig?
Hicks: Not wanting to go to school for a test back in junior high. I played sick so well I got sick the next day. OK, joking aside, I mostly did voice over work for local companies, then was an extra in a few film commercials and then started emceeing local nerd events for a bit and that’s where my passion lies as I LOVE working the crowds.
Midwest BSFA: What do you have coming up?
Hicks: Currently prepping for Wild Wild West Con with Tony and Charles! We are super excited to be hosting panels and being personalities together! Granted with Charles’s leap into TV with the show Steampunk’d, he is sure to be super busy.
Midwest BSFA: What are your steampunk goals for 2016?
Hicks: To have another successful con year and start touring with my siblings as a steampunk model and public speaker.
Midwest BSFA: Anything else you want our readers to know?
Hicks: Steampunk is and always be what you make of it! Don’t let anyone rust your gears with their toxic washes. If you don’t feel like you “fit,” then, honey, start making room for you! For the creators and up-and-coming directors realize that it is so easy to sit back and complain, judge or even financially milk people, but it takes heart and positivity to have fun in this experience, and that fun and energy will trickle down to your fans and community! So why not be the best you can be?
You can follow Nivi on Instagram and Twitter at @nivi_nichole or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by Chatterton Photography & Fine Art.