Student Involvement in Creating the In Her Closet Exhibit overview image

Student Involvement in Creating the In Her Closet Exhibit

  • Post Date: 5/4/2020
  • Author: Seetha Ramaswamy, IT student
  • Reading Time: 6 minute read

In Her Closet—How to Make a Drag Queen takes a step into the closet of a drag queen and highlights the aesthetic practices of the costuming and styling that make her fabulous. The exhibit showcases a selection of costumes and materials donated by several drag performers connected to the Champaign-Urbana area.

Student Involvement

Curating In Her Closet was truly a community effort. The Spurlock Museum worked with both local drag queens, as well as with undergraduate and graduate students from the University of Illinois. The main part of the exhibit is the runway with mannequins displaying stunning costumes, which was mostly the work of students. Here are some of the students who made this exhibit possible:

  • Villale Song, a Theater Scene Design student in the Collections section, constructed the runway platform. Villale usually does not help with building projects, but her experience in construction as a theatre/scenic design major allowed her to be a unique fit when the Museum was unable to rent out platforms for the exhibit. She stayed over the summer, and spent 2 weeks building and painting the runway. After receiving the general design idea, Villale had the creative license to figure out how exactly to build it, what materials she would need, and what possible paint treatments would be needed. This experience coupled with taking a design class for non-theatrical spaces last semester has made her become interested in considering doing exhibition design in the future.
  • Larissa Almanez is in her 3rd year of the MFA Costume Design program in the Collections section, and she helped with making the mannequins (which she had never done before). As a Costume Design student with a lot of experience in designing costumes, she found this experience particularly meaningful as it provided a challenge of learning how to make bodies for garments instead of making garments for bodies. Larissa and the other students who were making the mannequins took measurements of each of the queens and the costumes to make sure they matched. She valued learning how to think differently from her normal costuming work in order to tackle this challenge.
  • Leslie Straus is a recent graduate from the Collections section who is currently working as an Archivist and Assistant Registrar at McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas. Leslie worked on building the mannequins and on costume alteration. This exhibit is really meaningful for her, and she ended up extending her stay with us until the exhibit opened, before leaving for McNay in September 2019.
  • Jane Chun is an undergraduate student in the Education section. She worked on graphic design for the exhibit. The work that Jane did in creating the printed signs, labels, and marketing materials is explained in further detail in the How to Match a Drag Queen post.
  • John Kim is an undergraduate in the Information Technology section. While he usually works on web development, he had the chance to edit the audio mix you hear in the exhibit that makes you feel like you’re walking down the runway yourself. John found the experience to be fun and different from his normal work, and a way to expand his skills.
  • Ines Garcia-Valdivia is a freshman in the Education section. Ines helped photograph the drag show event that was held in conjunction with the exhibit “photographing the queens, finding the right pose to capture them in, zooming in on their incredible costumes, and observing their routines from a new perspective,” which she loved. Prior to this, she did not have a lot of experience with photography, so this was an enjoyable way for her to expand and develop her skills. Ines has previously worked with other museums in Chicago but enjoyed the opportunity to participate in a meaningful exhibit at a smaller museum. In the future, Ines wants to keep working with arts-based organizations in order to educate the general public and reach underserved communities, and she feels like working on this exhibit will really help her with that.

When developing an exhibit like In Her Closet, student passions and skills can be used in many different and interesting ways, which the Museum is grateful to facilitate and use.

  • In the exhibit, mannequins on an elevated long black wooden runway with gold trim and gold cord
    A view of the runway platform that Villale Song constructed.
  • a student cuts cotton padding on a table
    Larissa Almanez working on constructing a mannequin.
  • Two students sculpt exhibit mannequin torsos out of styrofoam
    Leslie Straus and Larissa Almanez working on constructing mannequins.

Why a Drag Exhibit at the Spurlock Museum?

2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Stonewall Inn was a gay bar in New York in the 1960s, during a time when the solicitation of same sex relations was illegal and police harassment of gay bars was incessant. Stonewall Inn became a key gay bar, one that was spacious, cheap, and welcoming of drag queens. When the police raided the bar and aggressively manhandled people, patrons and residents began to throw things at the officers, fed up with the constant harassment and discrimination. The Stonewall Riots serve as an important event in the history of LGBTQ+ resistance. In our Champaign-Urbana community, Chester Street Bar was an iconic bar (open since the 1970s and also where Sasha Velour performed before going to RuPaul’s Drag Race) for the local LGBTQ+ community before closing in 2017. Chester Street Bar had been one of the only places for drag shows in Champaign-Urbana. Recognizing our own local community of drag artists, the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, and the popularity of RuPaul’s Drag Race, In Her Closet serves as a way for the Spurlock Museum to highlight and honor the community by exploring gender, performance, and healing in a way that is truly empowering for our community.