“One love,” reads the subtitle of Drag-Súgur’s Tumblr page, which shares intimate portraits taken of and by the eponymous Icelandic drag collective. Such universalising rhetoric seems betrayed by the vibrancy and sheer talent of these unique individuals throwing glitter in the face of convention—but maybe that’s the point.
Kaspars Bekeris is a former TV reporter and journalist in his native Latvia, and the photographer who has been steadily documenting Drag-Súgur’s work for over half a year now. In celebration of Pride week, an exhibition of his work with Drag-Súgur and other artists on the scene, titled ‘F*CK GENDER,’ will be on show at Gaukurinn. It’s the night before the exhibition when we speak, and he’s busy preparing lightboxes and staff for the big day.
Destroy, mock, add
“I want to say right away that I am not in any way an expert on drag,” Kaspars explains. “If I were to talk about my understanding of this form of art, it would say more about me than it would the art itself. I was there to document drag as a critique of the artificial nature of gender, but I quickly became more and more interested in the people themselves. They are really powerful artists—it is a pleasure to see how drag performers destroy, mock, or add new layers of gender identity. As a photographer, I just try to witness that and let them tell their story.”
He certainly does. Often taken close-up, Kaspars’ photographs capture the small details of the act of gendering in a way that brings visual ambiguity to the forefront of his compositions. They share with drag a certain ambiguity, which creates a space for expression. Kaspars comes from a place where, in his words, there’s a part of society that still can’t hold hands with the people they love in public without risking abuse.
“I wouldn’t be able to make a similar project back home,” he explains. “We don’t have a drag scene in Latvia. After I moved to Iceland, I realised how tired I was of this intolerance in my home country. I doubt that it’s possible to feel like an outsider with these wonderful people. It’s one thing to take pictures at shows when the artists are fabulous and in character. It’s different to ask them to share their everyday lives. There are some really intimate moments in these pictures.”
Multi-talented art form
One of the first things Kaspars noticed about the Icelandic drag scene was how small it is. “I can only imagine how hard it must be to keep it alive in such a small community. It is really hard to be a drag artist, as well,” Kaspars says. “You need to be extremely talented to consider doing it—at dancing, directing, lip-syncing, or singing.”
Kaspars is keen to stress that drag kings and queens are not just stage performers. They are make-up artists, designers, seamstresses, comedians, actors, and much more. “You simply wouldn’t be doing all that if you don’t enjoy it. You don’t do drag because of money or fame; you do it because of the pure enjoyment of being the way you are.”
“Drag isn’t just about glitter and glamour,” he finishes. “Drag art could be a way to challenge not only gender norms, but the way we think about almost everything. The title ‘F*CK GENDER’ represents my own conclusions after doing this project—I realised that gender is not important, because of the simple fact that there is no such thing as gender.”
‘F*CK GENDER’ is open to the public every day and night in Gaukurinn, August 7-14.