gladragmagazine theDRAG QUEENissue a quarterly journal - autumn 2010
p2 : editors letter / hester allaway
p3 : ! picture show ! p5 : if i were a boy: an exploration of the missing drag king
p7 : just clowning around? p10 : VICTOR VICTORIA
p12 : GLADRAG interview the cockettes p14 : wall hangings from the gladrag crowd p16 : the bright lights of internation drag day
p17 : life is liberty samuel fosso & angela davis p19 : credits
backpage : first issue special edition DRESS UP DOLL DRAG QUEEN!
EDITORS LETTER Hello everyone! Welcome to the first issue of GLADRAG, we are very very very pleased to make your acquaintance. This publication has only one purpose and one purpose only: !
to entertain you, one topic at a time.
Each issue, we choose one topic / theme / person / place and give you a good thorough all round scrub of it. For our grand entrance, we thought the only possible way we could go was to follow those who know how to make a grand entrance best: ! ! ! ! ! ! the Drag Queens. Mixed up here in our very first issue is everything from a geek hot King in Toronto to Cockettes in San Francisco. Please rummage around and enjoy, we hope you like us and come back for more.
GLAD TO HAVE YOU
my first drag queen
My first and only real experience of drag queens was about two years ago
at a friend of a friend of a friend’s birthday in Kings Cross. Some male model’s mum had paid to put on a big night for him and had hired a couple of drag queens to do a little show. The show started and to my horror I was on the front row, somewhere I definitely don’t want to be at any event- what if they pick on me? What if the ask me a question? What if they look at me? So it began, I had put my “I am very interested and respectful of your profession as an art form” face on in the hope that I wouldn’t get ripped to shreds by these 7ft more-glamorous-than-me men. A silver painted man dressed in a silver old fashioned, puffy sleeved playsuit holding a giant balloon was introduced and started doing a tap dance. My engineered facial expression morphed into genuine awe. This man was beautiful. The way he danced, his outfit, his silver skin and make-up, the lights on him. I was staring at the balloon and looking at reflections of the room in it. Shiny things have a way of drawing me in and he was shining silver and pure in this shit, up itself club dancing for a load of arrogant arseholes. In those moments I realised these men were true artists and that they were doing what they loved for the sake of doing it and I truly respect that. He took a bow and pointed into the audience, I looked round to see who he was pointing at, my friends said it was me and shoved me forward. Sheer panic set in. my body tensed up. I looked at him and shook my head, like a little girl, like I did when I was four years old, lost in Ikea with the woman behind the information desk who asked me what my name was and I wouldn’t tell her because I wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers. He nodded and held out his hand. He was giving me the balloon! I walked forward and took it. This was the best moment of my life! I had been singled out by him and was bestowed with the honour of having his balloon. I walked back to my friends feeling pleased as punch and got a few, what I like to think were dripping with envy, comments such as “Oh Wow!” “Cool!” I held on to that balloon, I gave people a few token holds and let them look at their reflections in it, but I didn’t trust anyone to look after it. I was so mistrustful that I even took it into the toilet cubicle with me instead of giving it to someone to temporarily hold on to. The balloon touched the light bulb above my head and burst. My heart burst as well. The greatest prize I had ever received was now a crumpled piece of foil on a toilet floor. Later that night I saw the tap dancing queen on the terrace with the other host drag queen. He asked me where my balloon was and I had to tell him I’d popped it. He was very disappointed and said those balloons were quite expensive, ruining my romantic notions of this whole drag experience still further. I tried making conversation by telling the host drag queen that my lipstick was the same colour as his, I showed it to him and he used it. When he gave it back it had stubble track marks in it. The balloon had burst and so had the bubble.
ONE Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975, dir. Jim Sharman) TWO
The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert (1994, dir. Stephan Elliott) THREE All About My Mother (1999, dir. Pedro Almodovar) FOUR Some Like It Hot (1959, dir. Billy Wilder) FIVE Lola & Bilidikid (1998, dir. Kutlug Ataman)
SIX Paris is Burning (1990, dir. Jennie Livingston) SEVEN
Angels in America (2003, dir. Mike Nicols) EIGHT Birdcage (1996, dir. Mike Nichols) NINE Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001, dir. John Cameron Mitchell) TEN To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newman (1995, dir. Beeban Kidron)
lists should be obligatory, as should a decent cinema education and so we give you the perfect combo - the wonderful ! pictureshow ! your very own top ten list, to stash away and consult on a windswept day p3
SOME KIND OF ! pictureshow ! INSPIRED WONDERFUL ONE OF OUR CONTRIBUTORS GIVES US HIS TAKE ON A ! picture show ! CHOICE
Artwork: Scott Ramsay Kyle
"It is clothes that wear us and not we them...they mould our hearts, our brains, our tongues to their liking... The man looks the world full in the face, as if it was made for his uses...The woman takes a sidelong glance at it, full of subtlety, even of suspicion. Had they both worn the same clothes, it is possible that their outlook might have been the same" Virginia Woolf, Orlando
The drag king is not a new
IF I WERE A BOY
an exploration of the missing drag king
phenomenon. Throughout history women have donned suits and fashioned bulges in a bid to taste the unknown privileges of the male sex. Dr James Barry is perhaps the earliest known 'king' of them all, though it is dodgy to tar transmen and drag kings (who can be straight women eager for a thrill) with the same make-up brush. Born in 1792 Barry (born Margaret Ann Bulkley) chose to live his adult life as a man so that he might be accepted to University and study medicine.The original gender bender Barry's subversive life ensured that every record of his/her existence was sealed for 200 years. A groundbreaking surgeon whilst alive it was only after his death that it was noticed that Barry lacked the key equipment of his supposed sex. Barry's crime was to uncover the authority-wilting truth that to perform maleness
manhood itself is just the afterthought. Whereas the drag queen's brief is to flash her peacock feathers bigger, better and brighter than the next girl, for certain kings dragging up (or down) is a way to blend in. It becomes a way to temporarily surrender the trappings of the female body, a means to side step the harassment that possessing the XX chromosome can sometimes provoke. Lenna Cumberbatch AKA Leon da Luva who kings on both sides of the atlantic sees passing as a man as a way to tap into a forbidden freedom "when I'm performing as a drag king I tend to dress at home and take the bus, 9.9 times out of 10 people assume I'm just a normal black man" What is tantalising about any drag act is the kind of fuck you courage it takes to
perform. Despite the layers of cheap make-up or notquite-convincing-enough facial fuzz at it's heart drag is about naked expression. We all adhere to those never questioned rules in life; from gender roles to cash point etiquette. Drag is so delicious because we love to see people do things that we just don't have the fake-balls to try ourselves. Like their more pimped up neighbours the drag queen, a drag king's act usually consists of a short comedy skit followed by a mimed song. Many shows also end with a strip tease. Toronto's Justin Zaas works this combo fabulously, his takeoďŹ€ of geek-hot is well worth a gander at on youtube. He parodies a spacially unaware teenager to perfection, stumbling around the stage to Thomas Dolbys 'she blinded me with science' with zeal. Zaas is not short on stage presence and watching him I find myself
falling for his nerdy charm. This is what is so wonderfully twisted about drag, when Zaas strips at the end of his routine and his womanly body is barely concealed the audience witnesses a confusing evolution of gender. Astonishingly a vagina is not a must have in the drag king universe, men who are gay or identify as women can perform maleness as well. How much more fantastically mixed up can you get than a man dressing up as a manbrilliant. There is something about the messy in-between world that drag inhabits that is just so inescapably sexy. The pages of comments on Zaas's youtube page are a testament to the all inclusive drag sphere, one enthusiastic fan writes "I'm a guy and I think this king is HOTT!!! I'm gay and I think some of the hottest men are women!! you go boy! give me a call when you get the op" So if they are all as talented as Mr Zaas why are Drag Kings overlooked in favour of their taller and larger handed counterparts? Well yes it could be because men dominate everything, even when it comes to dressing up as women. But on closer inspection there is a sizeable king community, the San Francisco Drag King Contest has been running for fifteen years. Eminent Drag King Dianne Torr
also runs 'Man for a Day' workshops in New York in order for women to "escape for one day the social construction of a "woman" " the course includes manning up and visiting a strip club incognito. Perhaps Beyonce would benefit from one of Dianne's workshops and realise !SHOCK HORROR! that actually she doesn't need a penis to "drink beer with the guys" or "chase after girls". Whereas the Americans like their drag supersize London's 'The King of the Castle' competition is a little more humble and is held in a no thrills bar in Green Lanes. There appears to be no great shortage of king friendly events or venues but the drag king field remains commercially untilled. Ophelia Bitz AKA Mavorotti, crowned this years 'King of the Castle' has a meagre 14 hits on youtube whilst footage of a sleeping cat manages to rack up 820,000. What is it that keeps the King locked in the dungeon like a seedy family secret while the queen, and public face, reaps all the glory in this unequal marriage? Maybe it is because female-male cross dressing is acceptable in an age when shirts, shorts and trousers are staple items in a woman's wardrobe and the androgyne is considered high fashion. Perhaps the drag king is just no longer taboo enough to create a spectacle? is the King really dead?
But before the undertaker is called, there is time to wonder if the Drag King's status as commercial tumbleweed is really because they are too much of a taboo. Judith Butler who has written extensively on queer theory and dissected the concept of drag sees culture as creating pockets of 'subversion' through media representations of drag in order for society to passively exorcise their unnatural desires. She sees films such as Some Like it Hot or The Sound of Music as made to "produce and contain the homosexual excess of any given drag performance". Thus Drag is remoulded and gentrified by a hetero-normative world for an easier digestion. Butler argues that male-female drag can be seen as "oďŹ€ensive to women and based on ridicule and degradation", in this respect celluloid depictions of drag (think Mrs Doubtfire) can be useful to consolidate hyperbolic portrayals of women. The Drag King however is excluded even from this heterocultivated space because of the danger he poses. He is so threatening because he openly admits what society exists to conceal; that gender is just an outfit, and the drag king's costume is the most powerful of them all: that of the mans. Words: Dora Mortimer // Artwork: May Simargool
just clowning around? So we always place Drag Queens into the big spangly bag of gay poofyness. I however have always drawn more of a parallel between Drag Queens and circus clowns. It sound horrifically cruel and xenophobic even but bear with me as I’m going somewhere with this. The clown is a long standing figure of humorous entertainment based on the premise of exaggerated behaviour, something that is further magnified by the extreme make up, brightly coloured clothes and hair and topped oﬀ with a comical name. A drag queen is too accountable to these same criteria. More over there is an historical context and ancestry between the two. Back in 1786, the English clown Baptiste Dubois performed his “Metamorphosis in a Sack” act in which he turned from guy to gal whilst tumbling around in a bag. Today, drag queens makeup does somewhat emulate clown-like aesthetics.Even trendy Jodie Harsh’s club night is called Circus. True certain drag queens may appear to exude their inner Coco Chanels more obviously than their inner Coco the Clown’s but the bare faced fact is in either condition we are dealing with a fully grown man in bright costume and makeup going about to provide us with a giggle. It’s important at this point to remind ourselves that drag queens are very diﬀerent indeed from transgendered individuals or even good old fashioned cross dressers. The latter two for the most part are trying to pass themselves oﬀ convincingly for the opposite gender to that of their birth-with varying degrees of success and do so for their own purposes and reasons outside of providing entertainment for other people. A drag queen meanwhile cannot be said to be a realistic and actuate portrayal of womanhood, but in fact a very over the top characterisation of certain female arcytypes in society. The cringe worthy aunt, or the scaly tart to the fierce ghetto mamma.
Of course there is an undeniable correlation between the gay scene and drag acts, but in spite of this association drag acts cannot be reduced to being a merely homosexual extension of comedy. Drag acts have been part of our mainstream entertainment long before we could see gay story lines being played out on Eastenders. So I again decree the drag act to be a well toned arm of extreme comedy as opposed to the englittered leg of homosexuality. But there is of course a very major diﬀerence in methodology as to how the two forms of comedians communicate with their audience. The traditional clown tends to exhibit mute like qualities relying heavily on props and slapstick where as the traditional drag act utilises rapier wit and a glossy lipstick. The clown is often itself the butt of his own joke-often on the tail end of an errant ladder or haplessly placed banana skin. The drag queen meanwhile would seemly have a much more outward approach to joke telling, often praying on members of the audience and picking them dry, much like a vulture with tit tape. But examine the concepts further and the joke that lies within a drag act at its very core is much the same as that of the clown. The exaggerated figure of amusement, that doesn’t blend in, that, is somehow considered bigger than life and at the same time a stereotypically limited imitation of life. The worrying thing is that it could just be a case that people find it funny to see a man emulating a woman. But surely the notion of gender bending itself cant to the sole core of as to why we enjoy drag acts, if this was the case would not drag kings enjoy a slice of the pie, unless of course we consider the sad possibility that its only funny to see a man dress as a woman as its seen as a comical step down in social stature from what having a penis aﬀords. Cue a timely Madonna song. Clowns god bless em, have endured a steady decline in popularity however with most of us declaring a fear for them. Fearing them myself the closest I get to a clown is leaning on Ronald McDonald when I’m getting my two apple pies and a McFluﬀy on my way home from a night out. However Stephen King has not written a book about a murderous drag queen that strikes children with bowl haircuts unexpected. That would be a good film though. I would call it Nails. The fear that a clown engenders in people is simply not present with a drag queen due to
this very diﬀerent stance of comedic delivery, the clown with his unused tongue oﬀers us an idea of the unknown and suspicious, the drag queen however is an enigma we can decipher. It is rare that a drag queen significantly disguises their voice or accent (lily Savage being a prime example) and in the instances of well known acts that do put on a voice such as Dame Edna, do so in a way that completes a character that is only as scary or funny as the attributes that particular character is given. As a society we have also come to expect more from comedy. A simple pie in the face will rarely satisfy our sense of humour as much as a well observed commentary on life delivered with apt timing and intonation. In either way we are presented with an entertainer that is not on stage as themselves, we are met with a person behind a painted (some times fabulous)mask. Someone who has created a character for our amusement. The venues have changed, the circus has made way for the clubs and television and the honkers have made way for hooters.Whether in oversized shoes or Geri Halliwell heals we enjoy seeing someone over the top. In the age were we adore the Samantha Jones’ and Alan Carrs of this world is it any wonder that we can relate more to someone with a wickedly bitchy sense of humour that will point out things we are often too politically correct to go near. Much like cartoon characters Drag queens are larger than life, big characters that we couldn’t imagine operating in the “real world” (again remembering we are not talking about transgendered people). In as such a degree of cheeky humour can be deployed that many of us would not dare deliver ourselves, a verbal flower waiting to spurt water in an unsuspecting face. One day it may be something else, Drag Queens will be antiquated and we will be laughing at robots dressed up as humans, who knows but as far as I am concerned we have seen clowns evolve into 6 foot glamazons. Still….having said all this I'm not sure I would want to invite Rue Paul to perform at a 4 years old birthday party…I think. Words: Adam Pretty // Photography: Eric Oliveira, James Yardley
your problem, mr. marchand, is that you're preoccupied with stereotypes. i think it's as simple as you're one kind of man, i'm another.
and what kind are you?
one that doesn't have to prove it. to myself, or anyone.
“Ziggy, particularly, was created out of certain arrogance. But, remember, at that time I was young and I was full of life, and that seemed like a very positive artistic statement” David Bowie has stood tall as the king (and queen) of the androgynous, ever since his darling Ziggy Stardust burst forth from his spaceship, spiders in tow, confusing young boys and girls everywhere in 1972. In popular culture challengers to his crown are few and far between, Prince retained his love for purple but lost the plot soon after the Batman soundtrack and Boy George tattooed his bald head and developed a penchant for chaining people up against their will. But there are more than enough women to choose from; clad in Robert Maplethorpe’s cast oﬀs, Patti Smith released Horses in 1975, an Amazonian Grace Jones and Diane Keaton in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall followed suit in 1977 and Julie Andrews starred in Victor Victoria while Annie Lennox appeared on shores closer to home in the early eighties, with hair so orange it hurt. To be androgynous is not to be confused with being a drag king or queen, Hermés new autumn / winter advertising campaign and Yves Saint Laurent would have you believe it’s simply about owning a good dinner jacket and high cheek bones and less about false eyelashes or flesh coloured support tights. The idea was embraced by flappers in the twenties, the second wave of feminism and in the nineties you couldn’t move for extravagant Club Kids or Riot Grrrls in checkered shirts. Whereas the history of the drag queen is a lot more compact and flamboyant, and although the evolutionary paths of the two do cross, looking androgynous is helped along by genetics and is, in comparison, more subtle and refined.
Throughout the 50’s and 60’s there was crackdown on gay bars in America, dressing in clothes belonging to the opposite sex was made illegal and, in 1952, homosexuality was listed as a sociopathic mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association. A move not reversed until 1973 resulted in many homosexual and transgender individuals ending up institutionalised if they had been unlucky enough to have been arrested during the random police raids. In June 1969 led by a group of high kicking, chorus singing drag queens and young homeless gays, the Stonewall Riots erupted after a raid on the Stonewall Inn, a notorious gay bar in New York’s Greenwich Village. Owned by the Mafia, it was known as one of the few places in New York where gays, drag queens, lesbians and those simply of a curious disposition could dance together, dressed however they pleased. Tension and numbers outside the bar began to rise as police barricaded themselves and members of the bars clientele inside, the drag queens were the first to start throwing bins, bitchy insults, beer bottles and handbags at police. The riots are regarded as being some of the first dramatic and violent reactions to the attitudes of America, the Gay Liberation Front was soon established and the parade on first anniversary of the riots, known as the Christopher Street Liberation Day, soon evolved into the Gay Pride parade and celebrations. Led by drag queens, naturally. But, a drag queen is meant to be an exaggerated caricature, some may find it incredibly hard work to be attracted to someone wearing make up that has been plied on with a trowel and then has to be taken oﬀ with white spirit. What, then, is it about androgyny that can be so appealing? Fancying a boy that looks like a girl or a girl dressed like a boy could not have been helpful to a sexually confused teenager in the early seventies, and the amount of freely available LSD probably didn’t make things much easier either. The word is derived from the Greek ‘androgunos’, ‘andr’ meaning man and ‘gune’ meaning woman, fittingly it takes on two meanings, one being to be of interchangeable sex in appearance, the second means to have the physical characteristics of both sexes, in this and most contexts it is the exaggerated former definition that takes stage. To be androgynous is to try and displace an individuals original sex; they will always be either an androgynous man or an androgynous woman, it is to blur the lines between the two. By aliening themselves to no specific sex, the impression that nothing is ignored is presented, and they become even more sexual. The idea in itself is more appealing and accessible and readily available to woman, fashion attempts to teach us that it is empowering to take on a masculine attitude through the way we dress, this is why variations on the idea are always in fashion, every autumn / winter issue will feature a Annie Hall-esque spread, and we will forever be haunted by the term ‘boyfriend jeans’. It directly appeals to the narcissistic qualities we are unsure of within ourselves and the qualities which both either an androgynous man or woman will project outwardly when in ‘costume’. Words: Sarah Haylett
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THE COCKETTES the gladrag interview John Burns talks to DAVID WEISSMAN about the making of his documentary
A phenomenon always exists in a period of unlabelled and free being. There was a time before genderfuck, before queer theory, before Judith Butler had even hit puberty, when the only way to refer to The Cockettes would have been just that – The Cockettes. But 2010 is a world of names; we are prisoners of description. From the pulpit of hindsight we like to analyse and give name to phenomena in an attempt to connect the dots, normalising all into comprehensible human clockwork. It is with this thought in mind that I reapproach this article. Whilst talking to David Weissman, director of documentary The Cockettes, I’d focussed my questions around the drag in the troupe’s legendary theatre act. It was only when Weissman said he had made the film from a desire to capture a lost history and remind people who they were that I realised my looking at their drag under a microscope and trying to apply today’s terminology to a time when it did not exist was, in fact, warping that recovered history and forgetting just who they were. Just like the flowers they wore in their hair, their initial impact had become obscured upon the intricacies of closer inspection. For the Cockettes were not myrmidons of identity politics, but a product of the late ‘60s countercultural maelstrom; a collision of hallucinogenics, gay liberation, hippie communism and transgressive art. Though Mr. Weissman graciously answered all of my questions, the recurring strand knitting his responses together was: Sure, their look wildly transgressed drag queen conventions, but it wasn’t (and nor should it have been) for any deeper reason than joyous self-expression and blithe, exuberant rebellion. In fact, though it strikes one like a gong, The Cockettes are not just remembered for their flamboyant drag alone.
Weissman’s documentary is a museum-in-motion to their electricity and euphoria. Energy radiates from the footage. During the late 1960s, The Cockette House was just one of the three hundred communes in San Francisco. Whilst most other communes were working together, trying to mutually sustain their utopian vision of life outside the economy, The Cockettes, however, were living at the end of their chemically enhanced imaginations on food stamps and ATD (Aid to the Totally Disabled) payouts. Though most of their money (and time) was largely spent on acid and rummaging through third hand shops, they also used it productively to stage free theatre for San Francisco’s hedonists- even though most of them would be the first to admit they were tone deaf and/or couldn't dance. Lead by the ethereal, messianic Hibiscus, The Cockettes’ let's-put-on-a-show attitude lead to freewheeling performances of LSD fuelled fairy tales and '30s style musicals, which were an instant success. As tales of their rascality spread, they attracted fans as a magnet does iron filings some as illustrious as Diana Vreeland and Truman Capote. Though nudity was definitely embraced, their aesthetic was decadent, slightly spooky thrift-shop couture; a heady combination of satin, velvet or silk robes worn over layers upon layers of lace and chiﬀon dresses. Ribbons, flowers and tinsel were weaved into hair, and sequins, beads and pearls were draped everywhere else. Huge elaborate headdresses were made out of cardboard; psychedelic, glitter make-up was applied more than generously and, though eyebrows were shaved, Jesus-beards were always left intact. When I asked Weissman what it was about The Cockettes that still appeals and inspires people today, he replied it was a sense of lost freedom. Certainly, to watch all of them moving wildly in profusion, can-canning to show-tunes and Mick Jagger or else tearing like fire trucks through the wooden streets of North Beach did leave me lamenting. But Weissman was quick to provide an inspiring response; that his film was not about look what you missed but about seeing what’s possible… Weissman’s next film, due to be screened next spring at the BFI Gay and Lesbian Film Festival continues his love letter to that white-haired boy of cities, San Francisco. His new film expands on the more sobering moments touched on by its predecessor, chronicling the beginning of another phenomenon gripping the city. In contrast to The Cockettes’ carefree abandon of definitions, however, Weissman this time follows the desperate search to identify the outbreak of what would later become recognised as AIDS. The Cockettes is available from Palisades Tartan // The BFI Lesbian & Gay Film Festival will take place in London in March 2011
Words: John Burns // Artwork: Suzie Martins
wall hangings artwork from the gladrag crowd
Artwork: Dora Mortimer
Artwork: Kitty Lewis-Williams
Artwork: Anna Victoria Best
Artwork: Michael Felton
the of international drag day... GLADRAG meets it’s founder, Adam Stewart... Hi Adam, how’s kicks? Hi GLADRAG, good thanks just getting ready to start back at uni for my final year so it’s all going oﬀ... Tell us a little teeny weeny bit about yourself… Well in short, I’m 20 years old, from Nottingham and study Media and Communication at Birmingham City University. Love web design and want to go into that industry when I graduate. I hate cinnamon and love Eurovision. Forgive us for saying, but we had a snoop round your website and you don’t seem the type to start up International Drag Day… Have you ever been known to don a pair of fabulous heels and glittery glad rags? Haha, to this date, no. However never say never, who knows what waits in the future for me and a pair of heels? So tell us how you came about setting International Drag Day up… So like any gay guy I love Drag Queens, and was first properly introduced to them on the Birmingham gay scene when I
moved here for university. So at the beginning of last year I set up a facebook page for Drag Queens which had a lot of interest and that was great. So I thought I would set up a day where everyone all around the world could celebrate drag artists which included drag queens as well as other forms of drag. I called this day International Drag Day and it was celebrated on the 16th July 2009. And we think it’s a pretty impressive success, are you beaming with pride? Absolutely, I was really shocked with the momentum it had. I initially started it just as a facebook campaign not thinking it would get support internationally and nationally. I was really thankful to all those that got involved. Who would you say were bigger divas, Drag Queens or Kings? Oh definitely Drag Queens, you don’t want to stop on their heeled toes.....just think of a gay man with attitude then stick them in a dress and times it by 50. Drag kings don’t really have the attitude their act is more about coming across as a real man whereas Drag Queens are there to stir it up and be the divas that they are.
And where did you find the best outfits? I think Australia would have to win that one. Their style of drag is so outrageous and over the top that you just can’t help but love how they dress. The UK’s drag artists tend to be more conservative and aimed at looking like women whereas Australia likes to make statements. What’s the most important item of clothing or accessory a Drag Queen’s got to get right in your opinion? It has to be the wig - if the wig isn’t right then they can look really cheap and not very professional. The wig should convey the glamour and money which is complemented by the actual drag (clothes) itself. Finally, any future plans in the world of Drag? In terms of International Drag Day, that is definitely coming back as it is now established as an annual event. I just need to make sure next July 16th is bigger and better than this year’s. Which with everyone’s help, I’m sure it will be... FIND INTERNATIONAL DRAG DAY AT www.internationaldragday.com/
“life is liberty” samuel fosso & angela davis At the age of thirteen, Samuel Fosso opened Studio Photo National, in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. By day he took photos for paying customers. At night the young photographer became his own subject, making elaborate self-portraits inspired by the styles of James Brown and Prince Nico Mbarga, a popular Nigerian highlife musician. It was 1975, the height of rebellious Yé-Yé fashion. Fosso begged his grandmother for a pair of outrageous platform boots and commissioned tight jeans from a local tailor. ‘I put on my new outfit and went out. In the street I ran into the local priest who said: “You look handsome. You look like an astronaut; do you want to reach heaven?” And I answered, “Yes!”’ In his insouciant black-and-white self-portraits from the 1970s—clad in white underwear, bellbottoms, dreamy sunglasses, or clutching bouquets of flowers—Fosso casts himself as the star of a private burlesque. He tries on outfits as if his body were a mannequin. He’s young, he’s handsome and he knows it. To one self-portrait Fosso aﬃxed the slogan, ‘Life is Liberty.‘ Upon the invitation in the mid-1990s of Magasins Tati, the Paris department store, Fosso created a series of character studies. Drenched in color and uniformly balanced between naïveté and satire, Fosso dressed up as the sailor, the golfer, the African chief, the businessman, the hippie and the rock star. With a wig of glossy, straightened hair, a sequined black evening gown, a white fur muﬀ, and a luxurious red backdrop, Fosso becomes ‘La Bourgeoise.’ A classy woman of classy pretentions, ‘La Bourgeoise’ could be encountered in any photo studio from Lagos to L.A. Blackness, in Fosso’s world, is geographically nonspecific, and gender is as mutable as a simple change of clothes and makeup. Fosso’s latest series is called ‘African Spirits,’ a pantheon dedicated to the leaders of anti-colonial and Civil Rights movements in Africa and the United States. Among the recognizable icons Kwame Nkrumah, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Tommie Smith there is only one woman, and she’s got a gloriously huge Afro: Angela Davis. In the late 1960s, Davis was involved in the Communist Party and the Black Panthers. She landed on the FBI’s ‘10 Most Wanted’ list as an accomplice to conspiracy, and spent two months in hiding underground before she was captured in October 1970, in New York. The October 26, 1970 cover of Newsweek featured Davis in her underground costume of sleek black hair and glasses, dwarfed by a huge, grainy, black and white photo of herself, the Afro bursting oﬀ the page. The Afro is at once magnified and made larger than life—conspicuous, like the dissemination of Davis’s image, yet misunderstood.
This is the territory of images into which Fosso enters with his portrayal of Davis in ‘African Spirits.’ It’s disarming to see how closely Fosso resembles Davis, how present her image feels. As Jennifer Blessing observes, ‘photography’s strong aura of realism and objectivity promotes a fantasy of total gender transformation, or, conversely, allows the articulation of incongruity between the posing body and its assumed costume.’ Fosso’s Angela Davis proposes both of these readings. His mimetic intuition and uncanny talent for transformation brings the photograph into the province of supposed realism: we are asked to rea%y see Davis. Yet, the inherent contradictions —gender, nationality and, to a lesser extent, the time lag between the original and the reproduction—reify the selfportrait’s theatricality. Such a dialogue between the real and the staged characterizes ‘African Spirits’ as a series, but especially the standout image of Davis, where Fosso plays a game of hiding and seeming, masking and showing. By the 1990s, the Afro was back, and Angela Davis was touted as a style icon, a trendsetter. From black revolutionary, Davis became a “fashion revolutionary” in the March 1994 edition of Vibe, for which Cynda Williams posed as Davis in several scenes reenacting 1960s-era political struggles. Davis was disturbed by the recreation of the FBI poster, complete with designer glasses. This peculiar archival performance seems to elide its historical significance. When Davis said, in a speech later reprinted in Life magazine, ‘A revolution has a very, very long spectrum,’ presumably she wasn’t referring to fashion. Yet despite the ways that her association with the Afro has been ‘humiliating and humbling,’ as she has said, her image continues to be cited, to be blown up for window displays and Black History month posters, to be satirized on the cover of The New Yorker, to be celebrated in so many manifestations, and by so many camps, as revolutionary. I wonder what Davis would think of Fosso’s self-portrait, especially placed as it is in such erudite, authentically revolutionary company. Or being played by a man from the Central African Republic who was only eight years old when Davis was taken to jail. In contrast to Fosso’s deliriously unselfconscious images from the 1970s, ‘African Spirits’ is a classical study of the Great Masters, the heroes synonymous with black progress in the twentieth century. Alongside the likes of Amié Césaire and Malcolm X, Fosso restores to Angela Davis the aura and dignity of the struggle. And the Afro has never looked more regal. Words: Brendan Wattenberg
THE G R M CROWD Editor: Jessie McLaughlin Marketing and Admin: Harriet Hobson Gareth Randall Ellie Kemp Rosie Gizauskas Features: Dora Mortimer Hester Allaway Adam Pretty Brendan Wattenberg Sarah Haylett John Burns Illustrations/Artwork: Chris Brake May Simragool Suzie Martins Michael Felton Photography: Kitty Lewis-Williams Eric Oliveira James Yardley Anna Victoria Best Dora Mortimer SPECIAL THANKS TO: Michael Scott Cara Sly
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Flip over for the special edition debut GLADRAG treat ... O thatâ€™s right, your very own CUT OUT DRAG QUEEN complete with a handsome variety of glad rags and a fabulous array of head gear ENJOY!
Artwork: Chris Brake
Published on Nov 24, 2010