Drag Declares Emergency

Drag Declares Emergency is a project led by disabled artist, declarer and drag king Lady Kitt asking: How can LGBTQIA+ communities use our queer crafting skills to respond to the climate emergency? 

Here, Lady Kitt shares some of the developments of the project and their motivations behind bringing it to life. The project launched on the 6th February 2023 and was commissioned by Craftspace. You can find the digital exhibition and resources here: Drag Declares Emergency – Craftspace

Colour photo, exterior. A line of Drag performers are posing on a terrace outside of a grey brick building. Some of them are standing amongst some potted plants. On the wall by the plants, there is a sign which says, 'The Dye Garden'. The sky is a bright blue with white fluffy clouds. The image has been mirrored so that the same performers appear again in mirror image but they are each holding a slightly different pose.
Credit: Art Matters Now/ Lady Kitt/ Deborah Nash/ Edwin Li/ Sam Goodrick/ Cath Walsh/ Sarah Li

Through the project over the next two years, in addition to making costumes, performances and resources, we’re nurturing a network of drag performers who want to work in more planet-kind ways – if you’d like to get involved please contact project producer Sarah Li: sarahli.ladykitt@gmail.com

I’m Kitt, an artist and drag king based in Newcastle upon Tyne. Myself, and producer Sarah Li, created our Culture Declares Emergency pledge in 2020. Our pledge focuses on ‘Allotmenteering’ (building projects around available resources) and mutual aid. The Drag Declares Emergency project is very much a development of this.

For me, drag is mischievous, capacious, boundary disturbing and exuberant. I consider it to be a form of folk art as it uses creative and social approaches to share, reflect and care for the cultural and emotional lives of the communities who make it. As well as loving the performative and spectacular visual elements of drag, I’m dead interested in the social aspects of the art form. I’m also concerned about many of the extremely planet un-friendly practices drag can include (for example gallons of glitter, and pressure to buy new outfits/ wigs etc for every event/ performance).

Despite the recent wild popularity of Drag Race, the majority of live drag performance made in the UK is created by, and for, small, local, DIY groups of (predominantly) LGBTQIA+ people. As well as supporting one another’s art making, in my experience, these groups also provide vital emotional and practical support. It’s the strong interconnectedness of drag communities that really inspired DDE. I thought “what if we used our community-building skills and pre-existing queer mutual aid networks to explore and share low-carbon drag crafts?”.

So, supported by Craftspace, for the last year I’ve been collaborating with drag performers and LGBTQIA+ communities around the UK. In Feb, to coincide with LGBT history month, we’re launching an online exhibition including:

  • costumes made during the project
  • a series of resources detailing specific techniques we’ve developed that we hope others will try out themselves and share via the #EcoDragChallange hashtag
Colour photo, exterior. A close up photograph of a Black Woman with an afro. Her afro has loads of different coloured flowers in it, including some orange plastic flowers made from recycled materials. She is smiling and the sun is shining on her.
Drag Declares Emergency Afro Ditty. Credit: Art Matters Now/ Deborah Nash/ Lady Kitt
colour photo, exterior. A white Drag performer stand amidst agarden of orage and red potted flowers. They wear a leafey tabard made of green, platsic shopping bags and trousers which seems to be partly made from mud. behind them white chalk lettering on a brown brick work wall reads "The Dye Garden"
Drag Declares Emergency Stan Doubt. Credit: Art Matters Now/ Sam Goodrick/ Lady Kitt

I’ve written a bit about my own experiences of making drag crafts from reused plastic bags and wrappers below. I’ve also asked some of the other folks involved in the project to share their thoughts:

Deborah Nash / Afro Ditty :

“I think Drag used to always have this element of ‘thriftiness’ about it, and it’s good to be reminded how important that is for the planet too, which in turn could inspire young people who might want to get involved in Drag, but don’t feel they have the resources to create something from scratch.”

Sam Goodrick / Stan Doubt :

“I realised that I have a LOT of plastic bags in my house, and “biodegradable” isn’t the eco quick fix I thought it to be. We make clothes to last but don’t use them that way. Equally, we make things to throw away that last much longer than we expect.”

Claude.dine Van Trisse / Sarah Li:

“Sometimes I feel like the ‘natural world’ is outside of me and quite mysterious. This project gave me the opportunity to reflect on that and to begin to close the gap between myself and the ‘natural world’ and to see that as not only a personal priority but one that affects everyone. I also now see how it is intimately connected to my practice as a Drag performer; we usually perform in vibrant, fast-paced city venues, this is of course not a bad thing but I think it can be if it encourages that disconnect to the materials we are using, what we are putting on our bodies and what we are putting into the world. Doing this project has therefore been so joyful because I was met where I was at and I was able to continue to express and perform my Queerness whilst also being really thoughtful about my impact on the planet.”

 colour photo, interior. A white Drag performer sits on the floor. They are wearing a giant bubble wrap skirt with a black net underskirt and a black bralette. They have a giant wig made out of blue, white and orange plastic flowers. They are holding a piece of cake on a saucer and have a finger lifted towards their mouth.
Drag Declares Emergency Claude.ine van Trisse. Credit: Art Matters Now/ Sarah Li/ Lady Kitt

Over the course of developing my own drag character, Jack o’ the Orange, I started (obsessively!) collecting, washing and cataloguing all the single-use plastic that ended up in my house.

Once a week I’d sort through it. I started to call this my “BIG plastic glean/ clean”. The word “Glean” seemed important. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “glean” as :

gather (leftover grain) after a harvest.

“the conditions of farm workers in the 1890s made gleaning essential”

This meaning is important to me in relation to the project. Both in terms of gathering leftover resources and the connection to harvesting (which is the source of many of the British folk traditions that inspired my Jack o’ the Orange costume and character).

Collecting my own materials made me think about the materials differently. In a way, the bags are more precious than other resources I use because they represent time, energy and care. I’ve painstakingly touched and tended to each piece to get it into a state that is useable for the work I want to make. I have a relationship with every scrap of plastic, some even take on an almost totemic / or relic-like quality as I relate them to a specific person (who maybe gave up their time to collect the material for me) or moment (how I felt or what was happening in my life at the time). All this is then literally and emotionally woven into the fabric of the costume, creating work that both reduces the negative environmental impacts of my art-making and deeply reflects the mutuality, circularity and love embodied by my drag community.

Colour photo, exterior. Kitt, a white shaven headed human, as their drag king character “Jack ‘O The Orange”. They are lying among bags of rubbish, half in, half out of a huge industrial bin, which is on its side on the street. Kitt wears a black all in one leotard covered in strings of bright orange plastic flowers. They are sporting bright orange eye brows, a Viking-esque beard made of orange plastic flowers and an antler-like headdress made of black plastic flowers. On the right hand side of the image is another industrial sized bin on which the following text is visible “Mixed recycling. Use me for” .
Drag Declares Emergency Jack ‘o the Orange. Credit: Art Matters Now/ Lady Kitt

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