it all started with an off late conversation, I was talking about how the city of Hyderabad is accepting dance and performance art and then a friend of mine said: “Hope we had drag too?”. Initially, I thought that I cannot take a drag, as my focus was on Performance Art only and taking up something so expensive, hardworking and daring art like drag was something I could never imagine. My research on performative languages, aspects and issues continued where I used to read performance art journals, concept notes and content. While still, drag was something I wanted in my city I approached a lot of friends in the city sometimes forcefully assigning statements like “would you like to perform drag? it’s cool why don’t you give a try?” and other time “drag is an art, you dress well so go give it a try?” I bugged a lot of people and one irritated friend shuffled at me with frustration “Why are you not doing drag? If you cannot do it yourself how can you expect others to do?”. this question pondered me. I needed a reason for talking up a new performance style. I asked myself why should I do drag? because drag is a performance art where we take a political statement on gender and issues with gender (which I was already doing with dance by now), How? I wanted my drag to be exclusive and more of performance than entertainment, I want my drag to be anti-beauty, I affirmed I will go the Tranimal Way! for whom? This was a question I had to answer for, I wanted to do it for the city, for underrepresented people, for people of acid attack survivors, skin deficiencies persons, alternative sexuality people, differently-abled people and people with all sort of body types and orientations. And finally, When? It was that moment where I decided to go ahead with an exclusive drag event. I reached out to Nirvana Café, a dear friend Bhagi Sravani with the idea of doing Hyderabad Drag Show. Pooled in 3 friends to be my fellow drag performers. In the month on June (the pride month) we decided the date and we had only 3 days for preparation, promotion and propagation. All I expected was not more than 10 people.
The final day had come, and we were preparing, there was a hindrance in between by a homophobic post telling the event is cancelled. We were angry and outrageous. But still, never lose hope. the event saw 200 members footfall. It was my day and I turned myself as the “Mohini D ’vi”. Mohini the name of the unnumbered incarnation of god Vishnu in the form of women, meaning a woman who can attract the world. D ‘vi the first letter adapted from d’vin chi the painter known for his conventional way of expressionism, surrealism in his art and abstract of Devi the goddess. Mohini was created by the people of Hyderabad. She is badass, Blunt, always masked, poor, available and Non-beautified figure who has no gender, no caste, no style and all she has its Audacity. Mohini never performs a drag with shoes as shoes are a symbol of class and status.
Post the initiation I started a collective club called as Hyderabad Drag Club with a vision to lead drag in twin cities for acceptance and equally bring it a status as that of live music or dance happening in vivid locations around Hyderabad. With curating and executing consequent events post the first one. we did an event mixing drag and Carnatic music called Kanandragoulam where we bring south Indian flavour to drag and followed by a mega celebration of World Drag day at Nirvana café. But nothing goes smooth in life, isn’t it? To the saddest note, the only space then which embraced drag was shut and the journey from there was tough for me.
People embrace dance, music and stand up comedy but they think Drag is an unfit art to be presented. People pursue drag queens are sexual (so is the standup comedy session with subtle double meaning jokes), Drag queens are loud (so are the metal and rock singers), Drag performers are highly or highly dresses (so are the classical/ belly and other style dancers). People think that drag queen is transgender or crossdressers. but the reality is Drag queens are performers who just dress in opposite gender clothes to perform like performances of Kuchipudi, yakshagana or kathakali where men dress as women while impersonating characters from Indian mythology whereas transgenderism is an identity which a person carries, and cross-dressing is an act for the identification or sexual interests. Anyone can be drag from people belonging to LGBTQIA to heteronormative people. Breaking this bubble for getting spaces to perform drag became a tough fight. I was often told that either the policies of the place don’t permit or there might be a legal issue (not sure for what). Few places did welcome open-door support for drag such as Giggle waters, Nritya forum and People’s choice café however we still couldn’t crack the code to be a constant space for drag performances (a place where drag is exclusively performed regularly) for various reasons. I thought that proposing drag as an alternative to the music and comedy scenes for clubs and cafes will be the best approach to keep the art running in the city. Reaching more than 10 pubs for drag performance we were constantly rejected because of DRAGPHOBIA (yes, it’s a thing). Meanwhile, I faced backlashes from people within and outside the community on my style of drag. Some thought I am not doing drag the right way as seen on RuPaul’s drag race with high heels, big wigs, wonderful makeup and elegant costumes. I tried to constantly keep people informed about my style of drag “Tranimal”. I tried to convince and educate people on it stating Tranimal is a drag and performance art movement that began in the mid-2000s in Los Angeles. Deriving from 'transvestite' the aim as to create interpretive, animalistic and post-modern interpretations of the 'drag queen’ and the part of imperfection is a deliberate attempt to look animaltranimal. Finally running a fight about spaces, we approached Hylife with an open heart. We got the dates and had just one week left. We wanted a premier event for DRAG in Hyderabad and launched “DRAG CON HYDERABAD”. In one week’, the time we pulled up humongous support. 6 drag performers from all walks of life poured into the scene and we had a blast. The event was so well curated. Each performance was an epic and all of us together made something special for yourself. It was then I realize the power of drag. That day Mohini was an outburst, out poured and made statements with her performance. The performance had songs with messages telling “I am born this way” and “they don’t care about us” making the head thoughts into performance. This event gave back the confidence which I boxed into myself. Gave the courage to be me.
I 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 “CoronaVirus”.
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 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 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 the representation of disease in human form. When you present something in a human form there is an awareness, reliability and imagination which makes people be aware. Just as how Liberty, Nation's, Elements if life is 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 clothes 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 a 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 an extreme viewpoint on what if the body had so much 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 made 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 a certain object in a certain space to create a certain outlook. Calling them the avant-garde (from French, "advance guard" or "vanguard", literally "fireguard") 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 clothes I had collected for a while called “Rotten Silk” where I wanted to create a bright image with things available to me. The Tranimal style of drag where drag becomes performance art by blending the notion of beauty, fashion and colour need to be moulded into a spectrum structure and that’s how the rotten silk was born.
The blue and the pink denotes the colour of expressions and symbolizes the trans flag, blue being masculine and pink being feminine and out of which emerges a genderless figure where the gender dissolves into a spectrum and the visual eyes show up as a mirror to society for self-reflection.
Creating these images for myself made me realize how much time, Money and affordability was the experience of 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. Jeans a unisexual wear saw a history of how clothing can dissolve gender. Denims was known to migrate the gender binaries to be something which transformed to both the gender . I created a look with a pile of torn jeans to depict the migration of genderless clothing called the Denim Doll (as the look has denim as primary clothing)
It taught me 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 something 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. To articulate the minimality of the artform I picked up available trash which I could get. With the same thought, I created a DADA-Drag image with something so easily available like cardboard boxes which astonished the packed privilege or affordability for being a drag persona.
The most exciting time I presented drag was by recreating a painting of renowned Telangana Painter Thota Vaikuntam where His strokes bring Telangana women and stories of Urban India with a bright illuminating colour. Recreating Painting with photography was something which was done majorly for Raja Ravi Verma however, bringing the originality of other painters' work to life was a bit rare. These paintings were so inspirational that I wanted to present it via a vision of drag. Though the paintings were of Women, I presented it as Men in drag replicating each poster with body modelling and the output was something which was closer to my heart. This gave me an opportunity to investigate the roots of Telugu land and carve drag out of our culture.
I used a Silica Saree with a bright yellow and black face paint. The representation was to ensure to go as close to the paintings as I could with minimum resources, selecting once painting at a time and recreating the same with a camera.
As the days passed Another interesting look which I made was with more than 50 Masks of all kinds, mixing Super Hero masks with traditional Masks such as Cherial, Hand-painted to printed masks, Synthetic, clay and paper masks all mixed together to create an image of Masking Out. This image was indeed an essential for me to bring in an aspect of How people form Queer community must wear Mask one or other time to hide their true selves. While some have overcome, there are countless kids who still need the courage to come out. Masking out was an ode to all those Kids.
The other day I asked a question to myself, What’s the most beautiful thing in the world? and the answers we usually get are “Flowers”. I wanted to make the most beautiful things together to make the most beautiful being. Using fake flowers and plastic floras I created the look called “Floral Witch”. The idea was to acronymize the too much beauty may also be called as Anti beauty and passing a message on the atrocities of Plastic surgery and modulation of something Natural to something man-made. Though everyone has the right to look as they prefer, however the choice is only let for the privileged society and not the one from under the line of privilege.
An activity everyone likes, some have a rush of adrenalin when they see a bubble wrap and some think and burst one after the other. People believe that bursting bubble wrap is a great exercise for stress relief. It controls anxiety and helps in focus. Corporates provide a pseudo bubble wrap tab for their employees as a part of a wellbeing program. And, I am not endorsing bubble wrap. #Bursting Bubble is an idiom used to reveal oneself to the world, finding insights of a person and so on. We use it quite often to refer to a person sharing his thoughts, actions, confusions, fears, happiness and sadness to someone whom he /she trusts. Bursting bubbles is used as an idiom to open too. A bubble busted does make a tiny sound which can hardly be heard, the bubbles are invisibly transparent. When one bursts a bubble, the person is making visibility invisible and a sound which is unheard. A sound cannot be visible but often heard. The confusion of visibility of sound is an abstract of the idea of mental health which is undefined and vast. A person suffering from mental health disorder must burst multiple bubbles. So many like that of a giant bubble wrap. These sounds cannot be heard and breaking them all himself/herself is a toughest job. The more he feels alone the more he feels the burden. but a bunch of people can burst the entire bubble wrap in a few seconds. That’s what is required for people suffering from mental health too. They need people who can listen to sounds (as minute as bubble wrap) and help the person in coping up with the illness (by bursting each bubble).
Business around the world always tells us of the importance of Beauty. They need high classes styled people to run their business and develop their revenues. They employ only fit and functional people with a par excellence appearance and assume them to be smart. The corporations need a happy, smiling and perfect face to endorse their products but what we fail to understand is they tell their truth as the truth. The human body has been diverse, and corporations cannot represent all of them. What if business were run based on anti-beauty? What if the body itself kicks the stereotypes of perfection and how can we create a space for all the people? A case study I had on why acid attack victims are never given a job or preferred to be bought into corporation because of their appearance, sometimes we have only perfect images which we as a society are served to exemplify from which might not be the situation for all and for that we have to see images of all kind. I created this look “Boss Beauty” with more than a 100 pantyhose and created a look to represent these images which needs be take up the business.
As a famous poet said “Keep an artist in a dark room for a few days and ask them to draw and that is what becomes a masterpiece” 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., partnership and presentation within the community.