I am an extremely extrovert, optimistic, people person and for me a regular day wouldn’t end without meeting with at least 50 people. It was around 5 years from the time when I quarantined my art, and that was to crack AIEEE. But I couldn’t withstand the staying without it. And the next time I came, I came as a dancer who never wants to leave the stage. Since a regular time, I always ensured to not stay at home even in the weekend. I ensured to rush, run and engage myself with lots and lots of people around the city. I never want a day to be spend with out art. Somedays it was dance or drag or performance art. My body became accompanied with a constant Adeline rush to create, create and create art.
But, Soon the news of corona virus creeped into my devices, I tried to convince myself. It won’t come to my country, or my city and as it developed, I ensure, I can still get a place. I can still get people and I still share my art with personal effect. However, as the time passed the boundaries around me sucked in and became tight. Post the lock down announcement, I got confined to be into four walls. The first week was majorly went retrospecting and telling myself, I cannot stop. Thankfully I had a camera and a friend who can click pictures. It was then I decided I would create an art with this medium.
I started performing drag in 2019, June. Drag, an artform usually a man who performs as a woman but now evolved from Dress Resembling a Girl to Dress resembling a gender. For drag I used to shop a lot, pick up clothes I loved, items I liked. I used to create looks and then shop and spend a bomb to make that look. Drag gave me a way of expression. Drag also helps me to create voice for myself. While quarantined, I started telling myself “Queer people lived half of their life in closets, so it would be a cake walk for us to be isolated for few days but it actually gives opportunity to put the heteronormative society within a confined space so it could get slighter of the closet experiences.” And that is why its important to be in drag when in quarantine. Every day I picked up a look. The first week as I started, I got the very inspiration from the excessively heard term over the week “Corona Virus”.
While the pandemic was already threatening the country, it was important to call it “Ordinary” to ensure we don’t create panic but create awareness. Culture of anti-art gives the opportunity prevailed to represent even diseases. Taking an example from Japan, when in the 1960s and 1970s where Hijikis Tatsumi was dancing in the Butoh, after the end of the postwar reconstruction of the Second World War, was entering a high economic growth period. Meanwhile, the manufacturing industry in Japan abandoned all the waste to the river, and the sea on the coast of Japan was contaminated with garbage, heavy metals such as mercury and cadmium that caused mutations in human cells, causing a number of pollution diseases.In the past, Minamata in Kumamoto prefecture was affected by mercury sulfide dripped from the fertilizer company Nippon Nitrogen, the spine of the fish curls and cannot be sold on the market, the local fisherman ate it without knowing were contaminated with mercury pollution. And, many people were victims of serious Minamata disease. Tatsumi Hijikata, who continued to collect the weakened bodies, incorporated it into his own dance with the deepest resonance in distorted limbs of Minamata disease patients.
While the modern dance people were enjoying the creation of a beautiful dance, Tsutsumi Hijikata alone has resonated deeply in the shape of its deformed and disabled human life and had created a novel Beauty that has never been in human history. This was the idea to decentralize drag to representation of disease in human form. When you present something in a human form there is an awareness, a reliability and an imagination which makes people be aware. Just as how Liberty , Nation's , Elements if life are represented in multiple art forms, it was also essential to represent a disease to untag the fear and make it just a person to fight with.
As the days followed, I was running out of my ideas of cloths and fashion. it was then when I started picking up trash or lump material which I already had and started using it time and again to create an image of what art needs to look like. As I went on, I created an drag Art specimen called “Hairy Fairy”. When it comes to body hair, society’s standards for beauty for women are certainly stricter than they are for men – many people expect them to be cleanly shaven and even the slightest hint of hair is seen as ‘gross’ and ‘unsexy’. This series of photography was to challenge the idea of beauty and natural hair. Showing it to extreme view point on what if the body had so much of hair. I used some of my wigs to create this S.A.S (my drag name which stands for Suffocated Art Specimen) named "Hairy Fairy" through which i wanted to pass the message of being bold and embracing the body and its every part of it.
This madness of converting trash started so high that I started looking for things around me. Due to the lockdown a friend of mine couldn’t procure cigarettes as cigarettes being considered not an essentials item. All he could do is to curb himself and I making talking this opportunity to motivate him to leave them. As a result, he gave me all his previous cigarette packets which he stored in a box. I Created a look from 50 empty cigarette boxes procured from him. the look titled “Smoking God” is more than just a look. It’s a performance art sitting and making it while passing the inhibition to choking oneself with smoke. This calls out a wave to end the choking game. a campaign to ensure there is no more smoke lighting up.
As the days passed my madness of creating drag grew more and more where I was
Trying to work on placing certain object in certain space to create a certain outlook. Calling them the avant-garde (from French, "advance guard" or "vanguard", literally "fore guard") which are works that are experimental or innovative, particularly with respect to fashion, art, lifestyle or culture.
The avant-garde pushes the boundaries of what is accepted as the norm or the status quo. I worked on another look with all the waste silk cloths I had collected for a while called “Rotten Silk” where I wanted to create a bright image with things available to me. The #Tranimalization of fashion and color need to be scrubbed into a disformed structure and that’s how the rotten silk was born.
The blue and the pink denotes the color of expressions and symbolizes the trans flag, blue being masculine and pink being feminine and out of which emerges a disformed figure which gender delusions. The too muchness presents the spectrum of gender and the visual eyes shows up a mirror to the society to self-reflection.
Creating these images for myself made me realize how much time, Money and affordability was the experience going and buying my drag materials from outside. I still remember the stares the society shoots when a boy steps into a Women’s wear shop or a cosmetic shop and asks for Kajal. Quarantine has taught me to be free within the walls loving myself daily. It taught me that how we abuse privilege for art and how can we get inclusive and bring the essence of art in everything around.
This quarantine helped me develop the ideologies to relook Drag art and create a new version of the art form some thing which is a function of subversion is to reveal the absurd, the intermediary between the day-to-day and the intrinsic ideology creating it, which then opens up that ideology to responses of judgement, mockery, quiescence or anything that satisfies the immediate, visceral shock. Drag serves as the subversion of gender, revealing the ideology of capitalism, though more often and less correctly identified as detached patriarchal structures.
As the time and self retrospective has been developing within , i thought of creating a virtual space for drag.Keeping all the socio-economic changes in mind, I wanted to create a space exclusively for drag. A space where we can get news, interviews, articles, memes, quotes and information on the Indian approach to drag. This idea gave birth to my baby ‘Drag Vanti’ — an online space for desi drag queens, kings and performers.
It also serves as a channel to give information about the cultural and ethnic drag art form practices within India and how the version of Indian drag is different from what the world perceives as drag.I created this open space with the idea to bring drag culture to mainstream in India and help provide equal attention to drag as all the other art forms. Drag Vanti is a website wherein young and aspiring drag performers can find all the information they need to harness their art. Drag Vanti has been created with a vision to have more conversations on the art of drag and create a community while sharing stories and newsletters.
They would also be able to create a profile that’d serve as a portfolio for their work. Drag Vanti contains a dictionary of all the drag slang and terminologies used, along with an additional vocabulary of Indian drag terms. The online platform also has a directory of all drag performers, artists, makeup artists, drag clubs and spaces to enable opportunities for collaboration, curation, partnership and representation within the community.
I am happy that Drag Vanti serves as India’s First Exclusive Drag website with an online quarterly e-magazine by the same name, launched by and for drag performers.
As a famous poet said “Keep an artist in a dark room for few days and ask them to draw and that is what becomes a master piece” similarly the more days I start sitting and internalizing as a part of quarantine, it creates a likely madness to new art which is refreshing as well as inspiring. I may not be fighting directly with the pandemic, but my art gives me a veto power to keep myself motivated and sometimes mass social messages through drag.
Pictures by Rakesh Assileti
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