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Hi Cotton Ball protests exploitation through community, joy, and queerness

Updated: Jul 1

The Black, indigenous LBGTQ community is reclaiming space and culture with the Hi Cotton Ball

A man speaks into a microphone on a dimly lit stage. He is wearing a costume with legs on it that makes him look similar to a spider or a scorpion.
Artist Namir Fearce, a.k.a. "Blue Bone"

Hi Cotton is an annual cultural event curated by multidisciplinary folk artist Namir Fearce – also known as Blu Bone – to honor the significance and power of Black bodies. The event occurs every June in conjunction with both Juneteenth and Pride, two major national occurrences that celebrate the reclamation of liberation and belonging. 

“I'm working in ways that my ancestors, the people before me, have paved. Legacies of making, healing, singing and chanting... Telling stories that I have learned, and that honor my folk ” said Fearce.

A man looks at the camera. He is wearing a golden yellow shirt with a matching hat. He is outdoors at a festival.
Namir Fearce/Blue Bone

This is the third year of Hi Cotton. This year’s theme is “Bush Babe: From The Funk We Came, Into The Funk We Shall Return.” Fearce says the theme speaks to the ancestral view of ‘oneness’ in relation to Earth and traditional land. 

“I really wanted to honor our indigeneity and how we express that at all times. So really giving us the space to honor that and live into that funkiness, the wildness, honoring the worlds that exist outside of our very westernized, eco-fascist present,” said Fearce. “In remembering a time in living and imagining a future where we are connected to land, we are keepers of water, and air.”

Fearce says the event was developed in 2022, shortly after AfroPunk organizers contacted him to perform Juneteenth weekend for a $500 fee. He says he attempted to negotiate his pay for what he felt he was worth and his offer was declined. So instead, he decided to create his own event. 

“[Hi Cotton] is based in resistance. It's based in that fugitivity… Existing outside of institution and forging your own way to make new institution and organization, and other ways for us to organize ourselves,” said Fearce.

Fearce, whose work is grounded in historic documentation and cultural work, says the name Hi Cotton connects to his familial roots in Mississippi; but is also a nod to the significance cotton plays in Black History. Beginning in the 1800s, slaves were forced to pick cotton daily from dawn to dusk for 60 years. Even children were forced to work. By 1862, the amount of cotton a slave was forced to pick had increased by 400%. 

Three brown-skinned people wearing sexy outfits pose for the camera.
Hi Cotton performers from 2023

Fearce says Hi Cotton stands as a statement of protest against the exploitation of Black bodies. 

“They say we are our ancestors' wildest dreams, and this is the space to actualize exactly that,” he said.

The event offers a lineup of queer DJs and artists of color, and features various categorial competitions that encourage self expression like runway (walk), shakedown (dance), and bizarre (persona).

Participants are encouraged to dress in natural fibers like wood, leaves, mud, bark, cloth, and beads, tribal accents, and anything else that represents the role people played in relation to the land prior to displacement.

“It's not about having the most expensive outfit in the room or labels. It's actually anti-label,” said Fearce. “We're inventing our own fashion. That is the bush bag away from the bush.”

This year’s event takes place tonight at the Fine Line in Minneapolis. Doors open at 8pm. General admission is $20 plus tax.

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