Drag Affair: Cohabiting Drag for Mental Healing, Collaboration and Empathy with a Touch
By Patruni Chidananda Sastry
The idea of art was something that I developed as I started learning about practices around me. I was always 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 beauty is vs what reality is helped me to continually question the systems around me. With my approach to drag where I perform as Suffocated Art Specimen (S.A.S), trying to rip the beauty apart from what the world liked to see, I was always seen as an unpredicted drag performer. Initially, I was questioned about my aesthetics and it took some time to educate people on the idea of Tranimal (see notes below). However, the idea of creating art by myself was something that drove me to keep the ball rolling.
This pandemic has pushed all of us into the hardest of times. With restrictions severing any human connection and being locked in the house all alone it’s been hard mentally for me to dissociate with my feelings. Human touch is indeed a requirement for almost any artist to make art and this pandemic has made it impossible to consistently create art without the physical interaction with others.
As the pandemic restriction began to roll back I saw places, things and spaces opening up and I was once again able to meet people. I then had the idea to make my art more accessible but I was always possessive of my art. It was always my interpretations, my looks, my creation and my mind in action to create my drag for the whole year. This overt art obsession was soon visible in my work and it was now high time to take a breather and reciprocate the idea of collaborations.
Drag is a collaborative art form, at one glance we see that drag is created by oneself, on the other hand, we see that drag involves more than one person to make a mark. That may be a fashion designer who makes your dresses, the wigs you get from a store or the photos clicked by a photographer. The collaboration is what makes drag work but you hardly see drag queens collaborate. Drag artists are so particular with their mug that they never want to be touched by someone else’s 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 is what made me realise it was time to exchange this creativity with someone who could bring more synergy.
It was this around this time when I had the chance to bump into a colleague and friend Xen. Xen is a creative being who has been following my trajectory of drag and they had the time to share their 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 the energy of our drag which is a therapeutic process with the flow between each other. Xen had the idea of a structure, driven and mapped out whereas I came with a vision of dis-formed, unstructured and the randomness of art. It was indeed this paradigm shift envision of art that helped us create this piece.
Together we composed the concept of an open-air performance piece at a walk-in café in Hyderabad, India called Café Paaka. We called the performance “Drag Affair” which to us represented a drag reunion which would bring the aesthetics of the human touch into 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. 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 each became a canvas for one another to create a replica of alter egos. The art was in this process of exchange and the human touch of that exchange was showcased in what each painted our canvas as.
I picked up basic stockings and covered Xen’s face where they used golden paint to paint mine. I decked Xen up with some trashy wires and bulbs while they kept adding more glitter and gold to the attire. As we went on with our performance I followed a concept of dis-formed and abject art with the look whilst they created a more beautified and dwelleth version of drag. This pile of trash we used to create something that was both dis-formed and yet at the same time an ultra-fashion, postmodern drag look for both of us.
This entire process was captured by Akhil Komaravelli with pictures and stills to see how we shred the idea of social distancing and create cohesive art. In the entire process, we followed the covid norms by getting tested before and after the performance to ensure the co-art creation would not lead to either of us transmitting covid. The idea remained to allow each other to open up our bodies which were locked inside physical space for more than a year to experience the art of another. The idea was to dive in and get an outer body experience by creating your art on someone else and being a muse for their interpretation of their own art. The performance was therapeutic to see and feel the process of self surrendering to each other and building trust so that the art we made was more dynamic.
When we finished the process of dressing each other up we could see the art on each other’s bodies creating dynamic images of gender-less, gender-bend drag. A creation which blurred the biological gender skin we inhabited creating a neutral experience. This is what the power of drag is. Drag can be an art form to teach empathy, sisterhood and also a therapeutic tool to address mental health and co-body, cohabiting existence. Drag in this way has opened new doors for me to reconnect people with each other, building trust and sharing energies. This activity is a way where we can teach the world the idea of empathy and blur more boundaries that consistently keep individuals separate from one another.
Tranimal is a drag and performance art movement that began in the mid 2000s in Los Angeles. Deriving from the word “transvestite”, the aim was to create interpretive, animalistic and post-modern interpretations of the “drag queen”.
Photography by Akhil Komaravelli
Patruni Chidananda Sastry is a Classical Dancer, Intrapreneur and Customer Service Expert who also performs Tranimal Drag under the drag name of Suffocated Art Specimen (S.A.S). Patruni’s style for drag brings together unique footprints of anti art queen. As S.A.S Patruni has presented multiple performances in spaces like Hyderabad Lit Festival, Kitty Su and Kitty Ko. They were also listed as a top performer in Pink News and co-founded Dragvanti, an online website for the drag community in India. Follow Patruni on Twitter @pcsastrys3