DisArt Statement on the Upcoming September 7 Disability Drag Show
July 22, 2019
DisArt strongly supports the voice, visibility, and value of disabled artists. The recent announcement of our Disability Drag Show, being produced for Project 1 by ArtPrize, has sparked a necessary conversation about the role of disabled people in our communities, the agency of disabled performers, and the role of art in our understanding of human difference.
The Disability Drag Show is an event to celebrate the identity of disability within the context of an art performance-style that has for decades been a significant source of cultural commentary and celebration. Artists who are participating in this show are professional performers, all of whom have careers in the arts, including members of Drag Syndrome. As consenting adults, they have paved their own way into this career, a process that has not been easy, but nonetheless successful. DisArt has commissioned each of these artists to do what they do best, express a particular, personal experience of disability in a way that creates joy, learning, and cultural change.
DisArt does not tolerate the exploitation of any disabled person or artist. Indeed, our mission is to celebrate a culture of disability in order to create awareness, understanding, and belonging for all of us. We understand that the art of Drag may not be an art form that all can celebrate. This does not, however, mean that we should tolerate the censorship of any artists’ work based on their disability status.
Why a Disability Drag Show?
Drag is all about empowerment and transformation. It is a means of expression that is bigger, bolder and more surreal than most of us get to be in our everyday lives. There’s so much fantasy and freedom to it—and that’s precisely the point. Drag allows a performer to be more colorful, flamboyant versions of themselves. If you don’t agree with this statement, then disabled or not, drag probably isn’t for you.
Why would a disabled artist want to perform in a Drag Show?
This is an opportunity for performers—especially performers with disabilities—to express themselves in a way they don’t usually get to do on a regular basis, in artistic settings. They love the spectacle of it. The over-the-top aspect is essential. It is what makes drag fun, unique, and transformative.
Are the artists performing in the Disability Drag Show being exploited?
No. All of the performers in the Disability Drag Show enjoy what they do and the characters they play. Who are we to say they shouldn’t do that? The 50 year fight for self-determination doesn’t mean anything if people with disabilities aren’t also allowed to do things that some folks don’t approve of.
Is DisArt making a statement, political or otherwise, about Down syndrome?
Yes, we believe that the lived experience of Down syndrome is complex and that antiquated portrayals of all individuals with Down syndrome as innocent and always happy are outdated and damaging to them and us. People with Down syndrome have fought their way into careers and vocational paths once thought to be outside of their capacity. And although every experience of Down syndrome is different, we should always let them speak for themselves in any way that they deem appropriate and necessary. Please remember that having awareness of what Down syndrome is, does not mean we understand, nor do we have the right to judge the ability of any individual with Down syndrome.