“My favorite part about D.C. drag is how diverse it is in its expression of gender, or lack thereof,” says Farrah Skeiky, whose kinetic photographs of drag, punk, and queercore performers have appeared in numerous exhibitions and publications, including her book Present Tense: DC Punk and DIY, Right Now.
Skeiky first got an eyeful of D.C.’s underground drag scene several years ago, shooting photos of punk bands like HomoSuperior, fronted by queen Donna Slash, before she actually joined the band as guitarist.
“Because of my bandmate, I was exposed to more of the alternative drag D.C., beyond character drag or diva drag or drag brunch kind of things,” Skeiky recalls, noting that also was the first time she was seeing more trans and nonbinary performers.
“I think the really beautiful part of D.C. drag is there are a lot of trans and nonbinary performers, and in general it gives more room to play, not just with doing a caricature of one gender or another in a binary. There’s more of this, ‘Let’s warp these ideas of gender, let’s warp these ideas of femininity, let’s put our own spins on those, put our own experiences with these gender binaries and our own opinions of them into play and do something different with them.’ And it becomes genderless in some ways, and it becomes gender-full in some ways.”
Skeiky has captured that scene of underground artists and performers in photos that will soon be featured, along with work by photographers Cassidy DuHon, Koto Langa, and Keylimehi, in the exhibit Survive, Glamorously: Images of Drag in the District, opening May 3 at Ron David Studio.
“A glimpse at the subversive queer art scene that exists in the nation’s capital,” the show is presented by Haus of Bambi, whose director, Bambi Woofter, co-curated with Skeiky.
In addition to their work as a choreographer, producer, and DancePlace artist-in-residence, Bambi Woofter personifies alternative drag in their own performances. Among Haus of Bambi’s myriad projects — including a May 27 social club gathering for a queer party and dance performance at the Kennedy Center — Survive, Glamorously feels especially timely.
“This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” Woofter says. “Because there’s so much work being done of documenting queer spaces, documenting queer performers, and beautiful portraits being done that show up on Instagram and then disappear into the ether on the internet. They’re so stunning and they get so much interest and they have such a visceral pull to them, and then they get lost in the feed.”
Not only bringing those images together in one place, but bringing people together to experience them collectively was the main idea of the exhibit and its accompanying events.
“That we can actually use these images to gather,” says Woofter, “and create queer spaces using these images as a catalyst, rather than just these images being the documentation of queer spaces.”
Skeiky agrees that, even though D.C. isn’t touched by the anti-drag legislation that other cities and states have been seeing, it’s still imperative to celebrate queer scenes and spaces while we have them. “It is our job to be our biggest champions, our loudest cheerleaders when it comes to these spaces, when it comes to these artists,” Skeiky says.
“I think a lot of people approach art around queer culture, around drag, as if it needs to have happened in the past, like it can’t be current to celebrate it the same way that we talk about a Paris Is Burning, or a Divine. Like, those institutions have earned their place in history, and these things are still happening now.
“[But] having the audacity to give what’s happening now that weight, and that you’re putting it on that pedestal, I think, is really important, because, again, if we’re not our loudest cheerleaders and are our greatest champions, we’re up against a lot. So it’s really up to us to be very loud and obnoxious about it, which I know we all can do.”
Survive, Glamorously: Images of Drag in the District opens with a reception May 3, and runs through May 13 at Studio B, Ron David Studios at Union Market, 1262 5th St. NE. For more info, visit www.hausofbambi.com/events.
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