Drag has long been a form of expression and escape for queer folks. Complete with glitter, glitz, and glam, the artform is famous for elaborate costumes, groovy music, and celebratory energy.
Now a new exhibit at Honor Fraser Gallery in Mid City celebrates the last 70 years of drag history. It’s called “Make Me Feel Mighty Real: Drag/Tech and the Queer Avatar” and features photos, paintings, films, performances, and animations by more than 40 artists.
Jamison Edgar, the director of Honor Fraser Gallery, explains that the name references the 1978 disco classic by Sylvester, which for Edgar captures the spirit of drag. The song is about “feeling your most real authentic self when you're in this altered state on the dance floor with other people,” says Edgar.
The exhibit also reflects on the ongoing relationship between drag and technology. “Queer artists have always collaborated with technology. … Andy Warhol with his instant cameras and his stereoscopic film, The Cockettes in San Francisco in the 70s responding to the first live broadcast televisions … and that moved through the 80s into the 90s,” says Edgar.
While the exhibit covers the last seven decades of drag, he acknowledges that the history of the artform stretches back much further. “The reason we picked the 50s as a starting point is because this [was] the moment where this question of queer visibility and how we can be in space safe together and express … queer fabulousness and all of its glitter and gore happens,” he explains.
Even while looking back, the exhibit speaks to today’s political and cultural moment. The pieces on display are in conversation with the ongoing anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-trans legislation cropping up across the country. For Edgar, this context adds gravitas to the artwork.
“We started the exhibition as a way to celebrate and champion these queer artists, and all of a sudden the legislation and, quite honestly, uninspired attacks against queer and trans people, have just put it into a different lens and feeling. I would encourage people to come to the exhibition with that in mind, and to see the ways in which many of the artists that are in the exhibition have been dealing with that same type of affront their whole lives, and the ways in which they use their art form to get around it.”