With the change of newer alternatives, spaces of performance have been stuck with the idea of on-screen and artists across the globe are trying to put in new ways to create and share art. With unlocking happening in phases, the concept of art has also developed from time to time. As a drag artist, the pandemic was a revelation for me to showcase my art of drag and explore possibilities. With a constant effort of creating art, I collaborated on a photo series called VisssKanya – A mockery of the witch-hunting of women.
Manab Das, an ace photographer and my dear friend, reached out to me to do something like a photo performance with my art of drag. It was during a similar time that I started exploring the concept of Goth and gothic subculture. Yes, “Goth” has been hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons in connection with SSR’s passing away and him staying in a gothic hotel in Palazzo Magnani Feroni, Italy and Goth culture has always been tabooed and misplaced in India context and this wave of theories made it worse.
Adding to the witch shaming and usage of context for calling women who are progressive as witches is something terrible. References used in movies like Bulbbul, Pari, and Ek Thi Dayan made the idea of goth more like a vicious magical culture than being just a lifestyle in India.
I, with a friend of mine, Sajiv Palasa came up with a concept of photo performance to represent Indian Goth, and in that, we wanted to see how drag fits in. In the West, Drag Queens in the Goth style isn’t too difficult to imagine. It’s mainly a man doing Goth, but with more femininity and exaggeration.
Goth Queens mainly use the very old or new style of goth. The colours are mostly neutrals, consisting of blacks and whites, maybe even grey. Most Goth Queens usually do a white face with black eyeliner, eyeshadow, and all black. Their clothes are obviously in black too, but it may vary depending on the look they choose. However, for me, I wanted to define the Indian approach of the Goth Drag.
Manab, Sajiv, and I agreed to do a project with safety and abiding by the new normality came together in my house to capture the photo performance. My references were the folk tales of Dayan, Witches and Chudails because it’s easily used as characterisations to label and I chose the colours of red and black as the theme and moving the white out of the pallet. Sajiv was the other performer who chimed in to become the masculine figure, and I was the feminine one.
Manab’s vision was to make the photographs talk for themselves showing both the sense on interdependencies of the illusioned gender and the spooky aesthetics of goth.
The format was simple, we both will be posing nonstop, interacting with our bodies while Manab clicks us, we used the available objects, and the entire series needs to be shot in one go. A photoshoot usually would be breaks and discussions, but here we continued without a break to keep the essence of Photo Performance.
The performance was of a storyline of a feminine goth “Vissskanya” with revealing moustache and body hair seducing and embracing the lover as they go through the idea how they abide the love when she choked the masculinity to death (showing win of feminism over patriarchy).
It was an experience to see two bodies coming together and performing while exploring male masculinity, and transgressive of being cross-dresser simultaneously. The aesthetics and jewellery were picked up to bring silver to the limelight. The shoot took around two hours.
This was a project which made me realise that the medium of drag is not only restricted to the stage but can transcend beyond multiple avenues and how drag is interdisciplinary of different forms.
This series was a slapback of the idea of witch-shaming women, and making the statement “Even Men are Witches, I am one of them”. It also brings the concept of Indian Goth and helps us embrace the tiny little community of Goth culture with Pride.