In Her Closet—How to Make a Drag Queen overview photo

In Her Closet—How to Make a Drag Queen

  • Duration:Temporary
  • Location:Campbell Gallery

(date) 9/15/2019–8/2/2020

When you hear "drag queen," what comes to mind? Perhaps pink feathers, sequins, sky-high heels, corsets, impossible proportions, duct tape, a pound of stage makeup, and a healthy portion of sass? The popularity of drag has exploded in recent years, and so have the questions and curiosities related to drag artistry. This exhibit takes a step into the closet of the drag queen and highlights the aesthetic practices of costuming and styling that make her fabulous. How do drag queens get "that look"? Is it just her attitude and fierceness, or is there strategy and intentional craft involved? In Her Closet explores these questions and curates a selection of costumes and materials donated by several drag performers connected to the Champaign-Urbana area.

Drag is that wonderfully queer, effervescent performance artform that brings to life the fantasy of transformation and the joy of play. Drag, as we understand it today, is almost always connected to the LGBTQ community, and it has held an important role in queer culture, well before the advent of the tv show RuPaul’s Drag Race. Feminist philosophers and scholars of performance might look to drag as a way to explain how gender itself is a kind of ritual—an aesthetic endeavor which you learn over time. But to most queers, drag queens offer a certain promise, whether performing at a gay bar or on television: the promise that you could become fabulous with the right wig and the right attitude. Drag offers queer folk the chance to play with or play outside of gendered lines, using their bodies, augmented or not, as the canvas through which they create a stage persona (sometimes) different from the one they inhabit in their day-to-day lives.

animation of a mannequin being dressed with purple mesh outfit with tall boots
animation of a mannequin being dressed with a lace top, blue chiffon skirt, and purple hair

Additional Resources

Exhibit Text

We are making the full text of the exhibit available here.

Download Exhibit Text (PDF)

Participant Insights

Some of the participants share their insights about their drag performances through a Facebook video series.

Insights from the participants (Facebook video series)

Audio Playlists

Listen to an exhibit-inspired playlist:

Exhibit-inspired audio playlist (on spotify)

Performance Videos

Some of the artists in the exhibit shared the following videos of their performances: