Considering the current federal cuts targeted at art production, it does well to be reminded that what is precious in art is often what fearful conservatives are seeking to eliminate.
Radical Drag, opening at Ottawa's SAW Gallery, presents performance, photography, wearable artworks, sculpture and video: art that uses drag to align issues of sex and gender with other forms of dispossession. The exhibition looks at examples of this practice as a form of social critique, addressing ideas of race, war, colonialism, and trauma.
"The state would impose legislature on what a body looks like, how a body is to move," says Tobaron Waxman, who co-curated the exhibition with Stefan St-Laurent. "Drag has always been a vanguard in terms of being in conflict with that."
Originally, Waxman was invited to participate in the show as an artist, but he soon became engaged with curating the exhibit instead. The result is a combination of twenty national and international artists, opening with a night of performances.
Coming from Jaffa, Raafat Hattab's pantomime performance deals with the Israeli occupation of Palestine, while the beautiful voice of M Lamarr addresses the legacy of slavery in America. Opening night will also include performances by the legendary Ron Athey, local favourite China Doll, and a set by DJ CPI. Waxman readily affirms the critical approach of the artists exhibiting for the show.
"Not all drag is radical," he says. "Some drag only exists to re-inscribe certain types of stereotypes. Drag can be for entertainment, or for social critique."
The exhibition itself includes works and documentation of performances by Shawna Dempsey and Laurie Millan, Tanya Mars, and Harold Offeh. Gallery-goers can check out the wild wearable art of Virginia PuffPaint (aka fashion designer Jeremy Laing) as well as a hyper-masculine mobile of motorcycle helmets by Andrew Harwood.
"It's worth it to see the live performances, which will be very rare and special. It will be a great thing to see this radical gesture at the nation's capital, especially given the current art cuts and narrowing of subjectivities in Canada.'
Radical Drag opens Thu October 2 at 8pm and runs until Tue November 18 at Ottawa's SAW Gallery.