Disidentification through drag performance

By Contact

Friday, September 28th, 2018

A powerful tool of drag performance is its magical possibility to be able to interrupt fixated positions. Jose Esteban Muñoz wrote about disidentification in the work of Ms. Vaginal Davis.

Video work Cheap Blacky by Vaginal Davis screening during lecture performance “Sassafras, Cypress & Indigo Black Screen Images and the (e)motive notion of Freakiness” at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. Photo: Graziella Loyrette (Sun Times News.

Disidentification can be applied by marginalised subjects to make visible and displace a strong normalising and fixating discourse. Through the creation of a fictive drag character a third identity is existing in a non binary position neither included or excluded in the socially normalised structures.

Vaginal Davis video work Cheap Whitey is disidentificating both to a white supremacy (Muñoz, p. 39), to binary gender identity and to the idea of drag queen as someone with perfect makeup incorporateated within the dominant mainstream culture.

We often get stuck in thinking of those formated encodings of identity to be describing us, when really they are describing a sometimes humoristic and sometimes oppressing fixation. We can understand identity as the clash between the socially formated definition and your own struggle with fitting and selecting or disidentificating to the standard instructions manual of identity description. (Muñoz, p. 6)

The nature of performance studies and working with performative artworks comprises discussing the question of why we make things, how and why we behave and act and how our actions are related to how we form our identity. Our bodies are constantly dressed in social categories, stuck to us. Contemporary, ideology, cultural and social conventions are instructing us to read our bodies relating to gender, race, sexuality and age. Disidentification is one answer to the origin and evolution of drag.

Muñoz, José Esteban, “The White to Be Angry”: Vaginal Davis’s Terrorist Drag: Duke University Press, 1997
Muñoz, José Esteban, Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999


Text, sound and photo: Graziella Loyrette (Sun Times News)

About Graziella Loyrette

Influential Art Critic writing for Gallery Extra Magazine, Sun Times News and Gallery Extra TV.