Do you know where the term “drag queen” comes from? It was apparently first used to describe men appearing in women’s clothing in Polari— British slang that gay men used to communicate in secret.
From the global phenomenon of RuPaul’s Drag Race to Conchita Wurst winning the Eurovision Song Contest, you can’t deny that drag is having a mainstream moment.
In 1920, artist Marcel Duchamp’s female alter ego Rrose Sélavy became an icon when she was shot by Man Ray.
Feminist artists like Cindy Sherman, and Gillian Wearing, among many others, played with drag as a means of commentary, and Andy Warhol famously shot Candy Darling, did the silkscreen series of drag queens called Ladies and Gentlemen, as well as posing in drag himself for photographer Christopher Makos.
Photographer Nan Goldin shot drag queens in Boston as a teenager, and later NYC’s drag communities in the ’80s and early ’90s. In 2015, Charles Atlas was included in MoMA PS1’s “Greater New York” exhibition featuring the Lady Bunny lip syncing.
And last year Contemporary Drag premiered at the NADA art fair in New York. Gallerists Gordon and Robichaux were knee-deep in it with drag artists —from Tabboo! to Drag Racewinner Sasha Velour. Gordon said,
“Everyone really needed some drag right when we served it up… out of the bars and into the streets —or rather into the art fair.
Drag moves in cycles, but it’s interesting to see how quickly the mainstream is finding the alternative.“
RuPaul’s infamous line is now taking equal cultural significance alongside Warhol’s famous 15 minutes’ quote,
“We’re all born naked and the rest is drag.“
For more Drag in Art check out Amelia Abraham‘s A Brief History of Drag in the Art World.