Although the etymological origin of the word drag is discussed, we can place it without major inconveniences during the second half of the 19th century, in the context of the Victorian burlesque, referring to male actors who wore women’s clothes. However, what it points out is not new if we think of the Greek theater, Shakespeare and his actors or the Baroque operas who present early examples of this. We passed the century and the term became popular between 1950 and 1960 in the British polari jargon of the camp subculture. What changes? The context, who appropriate the word and in what way it does it.
Nowadays it is easy to find the word drag related to the world of art. It composes the list of topics worked in numerous exhibitions, international biennials and various projects. We can think of the ninth edition of the Berlin Biennial whose title reads “The Present in Drag” (the present in drag) curated by the DIS collective, the Whitney Biennial of 2017 inspired by RuPaul’s Race Drag television program which seeks the next Drag Superstar or even The New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA) with its clothing collection called Contemporary Drag designed by artists.
Beyond being a subject in the corridors of the artistic world, and very fashionable by the way, the greatest contribution of the drag lies in the intrinsic nature of the concept, where the drag gives a mechanism of great power to art.
Various artists have created works under this logic of the drag, the logic of “creep”. A dynamic that constantly forces us to reformulate the relationship between meaning and signifier, to question and deconstruct the rigid social archetypes: the alter ego laden with subversion and enigma by Marcel Duchamp, Rrose Sélavy or the alter ego Claude Cahun by Lucy Schwob.
This path is followed later by artists like Cindy Sherman and her costumes, Ana Mendieta and her male facial hair, and Gillian Wearing with her masks who question the guidelines imposed on her gender. At the same time, we find Drag Queens documented in works by artists like Andy Warhol who introduces us to Candy Darling and Mario Montez, Charles Atlas introduces Leigh Bowery, Nan Goldin to communities in the 80s and early 90s.
Beyond all these make-ups and costumes, lies one of the most vital aspects of the artistic spirit, the possibility of questioning, deconstructing and visualizing new meanings and therefore, countless other possible worlds.