For the very first time in India, three diverse drag queens have come together to create a virtual studio for drag under the roof of Royal Campus 1927. This space will host a biweekly online drag event where diverse drag performers across India will come to bring their best of art. The idea has been curated by Adam Pasha aka Empress Xara, the former Bigg Boss Kannada contestant and an eminent drag performer, and supported by Lakshya Trust founded by His Highness Prince of Rajpipla, Sri Manvendra Singh Gohil.
The virtual Platform ‘Studio 69’ is an umbrella that will host both national and international queens. Other members on board who will be curating the event are Abhishek Singhania aka Jiya Labejia from the Haus of Labejia and Suffocated Art Specimen (SAS), founder of Dragvanti, an online platform for Drag queens in India. The project is also supported by Hyderabad-based Queer rights activists’ group Mobbera Foundation.
Throwing some light on the event’s intent to bring in such a space, Adam says,
“There have been same drag performers who have been performing time and again and hardly any new drag queens are getting opportunities. And we all see the same kind of drag every time, so there need to be alternative spaces for bringing opportunities to Indian drag. That was the idea we had to make this space. As a Drag artist, performing since 2007, this is a gift that I would like to give back to my drag community in India.”
Adam has recently stepped into the role of being the first South Asian ambassador and first ambassador for the royal campus Laksha Trust, and promises to do more relevant work for the community in the future.
Adding to the conversation, Abhishek Singhania said,
“The western ball, like a scene, is something that is needed to be created in India where amateur drag nights become the periphery for new drag artists to come and explore their art form. There are multiple such places where they connect and unite with their art and that’s what we envision with Studio 69 too. We hope to kick start the ballroom scene in India too once the spaces open post the lockdown.”
Abhishek, who is also a vogue artist themselves, added that there should also be ‘Shade Sessions’, where drag artists come and read on each other. He adds, “Reading helps in creating togetherness and unity among drag artists, these are not to insult them but to celebrate and get over their inhibitions about themselves with a burst of laughter.”
Reading is the art of ritual insult as practised within communities of drag queens, trans people and queer people of colour. The most performative condition was the reading challenge, a formalised challenge each season, in which each drag queen reads all her competitors and a winner is chosen. Shade is a subtle, sneering expression of contempt for or disgust with someone — sometimes verbal, and sometimes not. By Bringing shade sessions, we bring the authentic art culture of drag and imbibe it with Indianness.
One of the world’s first openly gay prince and a key changemaker for the LGBTQIA+ rights in India and founder of Laksya Trust, the Prince of Rajpipla Sri Manvendra Singh Gohil, along with his partner Duke Hanumanteshwar, has been supportive in making this cause fruitful. They say that it’s a good opportunity to create visibility of Drag artists, particularly in India, to create awareness and remove misconceptions that people (including those from the LGBT+ community) carry around the concerns of drag artists.
Dragvanti, an online drag platform that hosts articles, reviews, drag-related directories, dictionaries, etc., is collaborating with the team to bring a new line-up of drag queens to the studio show. Founder of Dragvanti, Patruni Sastry aka S.A.S says, “I jumped so high with enthusiasm when I heard about the idea. This will be a wonderful platform to bring a new dimension to Indian drag.”
Patruni added that all the organisations are also working on creating a safe space for drag art to flourish. Talking about drag art education and how drag can become equal as that of dance and drama, Patruni adds “Education of an art is a stepping stone to harness the art. So I, Adam and Abhishek are planning to create a virtual drag school on dragvanti that will bring courses to educate the new generation about the art of drag. The logistics are still in planning, but you should get the updates soon.”
This is something the queer community needs to stick their eye at, for the upcoming months, and spaces like these are always a ray of hope for drag artists who are severely affected due to the ongoing lockdown. We hope we fight it together with love and art.