February 2019 – To Pissi Myles, performing in drag celebrates the “wide spectrum of people when it comes to gender and sexuality.”
“I am a man, but I have effeminate qualities. I always had—ask my dad,” said Myles, a performer speaking at Drew University about “Drag as an Art Form.”
The event, moderated by Special Collections Associate Candace Reilly, examined the performance of drag and visual depictions of its performers as they gain mainstream popularity through TV shows such RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Also on hand was David Ayllon, a graphic artist and photographer known for his pictures of drag performers, including Myles. Ayllon, who’s married to Myles, began photographing performers when Myles needed marketing help early on. Their collaboration on photos and music videos has made them a power couple in the drag community.
“Drag queens are the closest thing we have to superheroes in 3D, with their costumes and shenanigans,” Ayllon said. And while some photographers capture a behind-the-scenes look at such performers, Ayllon portrays them in character. As he explained, “I am interested in the illusion.”
At the event, held at Drew’s United Methodist Archives and History Center, Ayllon displayed nine large-scale pieces that included photos of past winners of Rupaul’s Drag Race, such as Bob the Drag Queen and Sasha Velour.
Beyond looking fabulous, drag performers need to sing, dance or do comedy and market themselves on social media, according to Myles. That’s especially true in New York City, where audiences have their pick of performances.
“With any art—what my husband does or what I do—it should push you, it should challenge you, it should change you in some way,” Myles added. “My goal is always to remind people to laugh at themselves.”
Myles, who studied musical theater at Montclair State University, also performed, lip-syncing “Beauty School Dropout” from Grease and singing “I Am What I Am” from La Cage aux Folles before telling the audience, “Do drag—it’s fun! But don’t do it in New York. I don’t need the competition.”
The event, which attracted more than 120 people, was presented by the Special Collections Department with support from the Graduate Student Association, Sexuality and Gender Alliance, Women’s Concerns, the History Club, Art Club and Art History Club.