No Amount of Censorship Can Stop Atlanta's Drag Queens from Looking Fabulous
Especially scraps of paper tacked over pictures of "cum".
Last month, we spoke to some of the people behind Atlanta's Legendary Children photo exhibition, which centres around pictures of the city's drag scene. Since the show opened, the organisers have run into some issues, mostly based around cum, cock and censorship. Matthew Terrell is one of those organisers, so we asked him to provide us with an account of what's been going on.
Violet Chachki photographed by Blake England, one of the photos that has had to be censored.
Putting together Legendary Children was a laborious, but glamorous, operation. The exhibition of photos based around the Atlanta drag scene features work by myself, Jon Dean, Kevin O, Blane Bussey and Blake England, with ten other queens rounding out our queer coterie.
Atlanta's Gallery 1526 currently houses our exhibit, and Melanie Bell – the space's beautiful, pregnant, bisexual mother-gallerist – has been one of our strongest supporters since day one. “It was time for the drag scene to receive a fine art setting, and once you see the photographers' work, you'll agree” she told me to tell you. "This show was personally exciting for me," she continued. "Being bisexual and in love with the dynamic creativity that drag brings, it made perfect sense. Art? Gorgeous men who look like gorgeous women? Yes, please and thank you."
Gallery 1526 has hosted some of Atlanta's wildest art shows and, owing to Melanie's tastes, the space has hosted plenty of nudity – in paintings and photography, But, up until now, it's been all female.
The censoring of Blake England's Violet Chachki photograph.
The gallery exists as the walls of a much larger building that houses offices for people like game designers, videographers, and photographers. On the day we started to hang artwork, some of the folks who work in the building asked that two images by Blake England be covered up. The first was a photograph of Violet Chachki's cock and balls, and the other of Violet's gaff (an undergarment used to cover a queen's tuck). In direct line of sight above these photos is a painting of a completely naked woman.
Later on, a photograph by Jon Dean was also covered up, again at the request of one of the people who worked in the building. Again, the image features Chachki – this time posing as a duh-face dominatrix in front of a projection of what may be cum-stained lips.
.jpg' alt='' ]
Jon Dean's censored photo of Violet Chachki.
I'll be honest, I never saw cum in that photo until some dude decided to forcibly tack a piece of paper above it and point out that it was indeed – gasp – cum. I am a 20-something gay man with an iPhone, living in a major metropolitan city – I've seen a lot of cum in my life. Every time I look at that photo, I just see my friend Violet, cinched in and femmed out.
I think all this drama speaks to drag's transgressive power. When we allow drag queens to be the ambassadors of the gay community, you could argue that they bring about some kind of social change. Legendary Children shows that the image of drag can shake up the even hallowed, liberated space of an art gallery.
"Any kind of drag – drag queens, drag kings, camp drag, glamour drag, booger drag, you name it – is political," explains Buck Cooke, the Executive Director of the Atlanta Pride Committee. "Any time a drag queen straps on her heels or when a drag king stuffs the crotch of his pants, they are giving a defiant middle finger to our opponents who want to put LGBTQ people in a box."
The way I see it, that "box" is a new picture of homosexuality that we have fed to the masses. We achieved victory for gay marriage in the Supreme Court by selling a vision of our community that was bland and agreeable: gay, white, male, upper-middle-class – wears the sleekest button-ups to his corporate job and has a beautiful husband and adorable kids.
Violet Chachki photographed by Jon Dean
The vaguely conservative, middle-America-friendly gay men I see portrayed in the media do not represent the voices of the community I know. The power of queerness lies in its ability to be weird, to question convention and to make people uncomfortable, because that's how we change things.
Legendary Children showcases pretty queens, flacid cock, alleged cum and just enough glitter to make people squirm. I believe we, as artists, should make people uncomfortable. That's how you know you've done something right. I asked Amy Miller, Executive Director of Atlanta Celebrates Photography, to sum up exactly why she thought people got their panties in a bunch over our work.
"The photographer can powerfully redefine who is gazing at whom and why," she told me. "Photography lives on the front line of change. Whenever traditional viewpoints are dissected and exploded through art, a conversation is forced out into the open, under a harsh, unchartered light."
Come to Legendary Children and tell us what you see in the photos. Our closing reception on Saturday, September the 28th will be the art-drag, drag-art event of the year.
Matthew Terrell is the media liaison for Legendary Children. He can be reached at matt.terrell [at] gmail [dot] com. For his website click here.
Jon Dean, curator of Legendary Children, can be reached at jodean20 [at] gmail [dot] com