An exhibition of photos of drag artists may cause you to expect lots of men in voluminous quantities of make up and attitude, but this is rather more nuanced.

What we’re looking at is less the bitchy comedy routines of nightclubs and bars, and more the use of cross-dressing to express self-identification and body politics.

It features the work of more than 30 artists who have used drag to explore or question identity, gender, class and politics, from the 1960s to the present day. Alongside portraits by famous photographers, the most insightful representations are by the drag artists themselves, revealing the transformation.

It covers the spectrum of drag, from the obvious men as ladies, and ladies as men, but also the “bio queens”, who are women who act like men dressed like ladies.

The display is both part artistic and part political as people “come out” of their day to day appearance to their true being, and in doing so challenge society norms about how a person is expected to clothe themselves.

The display is therefore accidentally topical with ongoing debates about trans-rights and gender identity.

The range of photos is also often lacking in the glamour we perceive – they are the very intimate moments of transformation, much like the candid photos of actors in theatre dressing rooms, looking often more like startled rabbits than fabulous darling.

The exhibition is also accompanied by a programme of tours led by drag performers.

It’s open daily at the Hayward Gallery until 14th October. Entry is free.

Photography is not permitted.


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