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Drag Affair: Bringing The Aesthetic Of Human Touch To Art

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The idea of art was something that I developed as I started learning about practices around me. I always used to be amused with the oddity of things in life. With my training in Indian classical dance early on, I was taught to see the world through the lens of how it needed to be seen.

The idea of what is beauty versus what is reality helped me question time and again. With my approach to drag, where I come up as a suffocated art specimen, trying to rip the beauty apart from what the world liked to see, I was always seen as an unpredicted drag performer.

Image provided by the author.

Initially, I was questioned about my aesthetics, but it took some time to educate people on the idea of Tranimal. However, the idea of creating art by myself was something that thrived me to keep the ball rolling.

This pandemic has pushed all of us into the hardest time. With restrictions from having any human connections to getting locked in a house all alone, these times were hard mentally for me to dissociate from my feelings. With the idea of human touch, we couldn’t have had shown a great lack in making my art more and more squeezed.

Human touch is hope for any artist to make art and this pandemic made it impossible to create art without any physical interaction with others constantly.

As the pandemic was backrolling and I saw places, things and spaces opening up and meeting people again, the idea opened up to make my art more accessible. But I was always possessive of my art, interpretations, looks, creation and my mind in action to create drag for the whole year.

This overt art obsession could soon be seen in my work. It was high time to take a breather and reciprocate the idea of collaborations.

Image provided by the author.

Drag is a collaborative art form. At one glace, we see that drag is created by oneself; on the other hand, we see that drag involves more than one people to make a mark, may that be a fashion designer who makes your dresses, the wigs you get and the photos. Collaboration is what makes drag work.

But you could hardly see drag queens collaborate. Drag artists are so particular with their mug that they never want to be touched by someone’s else creativity on their body. In India, however, this idea of obsession is predominantly less because of its healthy and creative Drag community, which opens up a plethora of avenues to collaborate.

This was the tuck that made me realise it was high time to exchange this creativity with someone who could bring more synergy.

It was this time when I had a chance to bump into a colleague and friend, Xen. Xen is a creative being who has been following my trajectory of drag and she could time and again share energy to co-create an exchange of art. Being an AFAB person, I thought it would make a great difference in bringing two different gender bodies and create something for collaboration.

The idea of collaboration was to exchange energy of drag which is therapeutic with the flow to each other. Xen comes with the idea of structure, driven and mapped, where I come with a vision of dis-formed, unstructured and randomness of art. It was indeed this paradigm shift envision of art that helped us create this piece.

We both came up with an open-air performance piece at a walk-in café in Hyderabad, Café Paaka, with an open performance for a few walk-ins. We called the performance “Drag Affair”, which means drag reunion, which would bring the aesthetics of the human touch to the art. With social distancing being the norm, this performance kicked the idea of co-creating drag on each other by the viscosity of Human touch.

Drag Affair
Images provided by the author.

We had a pile of trash, clothes, broken jewellery, dresses, decoration items, makeup materials in front of us. The idea was to become the muse for each other. We became the canvas for each other to create our replica of alter egos. The art was here to exchange and a touch of exchange was showcased with what I painted the canvas as.

I picked up the basic stockings and covered her face, where she used golden paint to paint mine. I decked her up with some trashy wires and bulbs while she added more glitter and gold to the attire. As we went on with the performance, I deliberated to share the idea of dis-formed art with her look and she created a more beautified and dwelleth version of drag.

The pile of trash we put on each other created more of a dis-formed ultra-fashion postmodern drag look for both of us.

Akhil Komaravelli captured this entire process with pictures and stills to see how we shred the idea of social distancing and create cohesive art. We followed the covid norms in the entire process by getting tested before and after the performance to ensure the co-art creation was not leading to any covid transmission.

The idea was to allow each other to open up our bodies which were locked for more than a year, to experience the art of another. The idea was to dive in and get an out of body experience for art when you make your art on someone else and be a muse for their interpretation of art.

The performance was therapeutic to see and feel the process of self surrendering to each other and create trust to make art more dynamically.

When we finished the process of dressing up each other, we could see our art on each other’s bodies, creating more dynamic images of gender-less, gender-bend drag. The creation blurred the biological gender skin we were in and created a true neutral experience.

This is what the power of drag is. Drag can be an art form to teach empathy, sisterhood and can also be therapeutic to address mental health and co-body existence. Drag has opened new doors for me to see a way to reconnect with people and share energies and build trust.

This activity is a way to teach the world the idea of empathy and blur more boundaries that keep away all of us from one another.

Pictures by Akhil Komaravelli
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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