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DRAG: Self-portraits and Body Politics at the Hayward Gallery

August 31, 2018

ArtsMixed Media | by Candid Magazine

‘Drag performance aims at destabilizing the “truth” of sexual and gender identity by pointing to the fact that there is no obligating reason that necessitates the constant mimicry of performed identities,’ said Judith Butler in 1990, in Gender Trouble, ‘Drag therefore exposes the social coercion at the base of the performative nature of identity.’

Victoria Sin Cthulhu Through the Looking Glass, 2017, film still. Courtesy: the artist

DRAG: Self-portraits and Body Politics is the first institutional exhibition to explore and expand on the traditional representations of drag, involving drag queens, drag kings and bio drags from a multitude of backgrounds, eras, and drag styles. Uncovering the varying uses, methods and representations of drag over time, this exhibition features self-portraiture from the 1960s to today from artists who have assiduously defied the status quo by challenging preconceptions of gender, identity, class, power structures, politics and race.

DRAG: Self-portraits and Body Politics features the works of key established figures such as Pierre Molinier, VALIE EXPORT, Robert Mapplethorpe, Ulay and Cindy Sherman, as well as self-portraits and performances by a younger generation of contemporary artists who have recently embraced drag as an art form, including Adam Christensen, Oreet Ashery and Victoria Sin. The exhibition includes an exciting opportunity to join in on one of the three exhibition tours led by key figures from London’s vibrant drag scene, and while, photographs, video performances and sculptural installations make up the core of DRAG’s display, Paul Kindersley (whose work touches on class and consumerism) has been commissioned to create a new site-specific wall painting that interacts with and complements the overarchingDRAG narratives.

Samuel Fosso, Self Portrait 2008, Photograph, Private Jean Marc Patras, Paris

Taking place in Hayward Gallery’s HENI Project Space, home to innovative programmes and events that have been associated with presenting the latest developments in contemporary art from established and emerging artists of today, HENI becomes the appropriate backdrop for the exploration of drag as an artistic/political/sociocultural medium that has recently gained unprecedented exposure and visibility.

Ming Wong, After Chinatown, 2012, video, Courtesy carlier | gebauer GmbH, Berlin

By representing an array of distinct voices as opposed to a linear or chronological narrative, DRAG: Self-portraits and Body Politics covers a diverse range of topics and cultural shifts taking place in the past 50 years. From feminism (e.g. Eleanor Antin’s and Martha Wilson’s scrutiny of gender codifications and clichés) to the AIDS crisis (e.g. Luciano Castelli’s celebration of the sexual freedom of the pre-AIDS generation) and post-colonial theory (e.g. Victoria Sin’s dissection of ideal feminine identities through a non-binary and post-colonial alternative), the artists featured in the exhibition demonstrate that drag holds a mirror up to nature whilst critiquing body politics and sociocultural constructs.

Pitting dualities such as elegance and vulgarity; camp and butch; identity and performativity against each other, DRAG: Self-portraits and Body Politics is a bold and daring exhibition that displays the spirit and many faces of drag from the 60s onward. As dragdeconstructs binaries and cultural stereotypes, visitors are invited to consider shifting the nature of identity and gender, as well as explore the contemporary perspectives and debates surrounding the appropriation and misrepresentation of gender identity and selfie culture. Inspiring creativity, discovery and inquisition, DRAG: Self-portraits and Body Politics demonstrates that drag is not merely an act of mimicry, but serves to draw attention to the way we develop, construct and perform gender in our everyday lives.

Words by Dominic Sylvia Lauren

DRAG: Self-portraits and Body Politics runs until 14 October 2018 at HENI Project Space in London’s Southbank Centre’s Hayward Gallery

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