Featured Image: Cheddar Gorgeous
Words: Abi Goodman
As we race into another week of Unit X explorations, we thought we’d start off this week featuring Cheddar Gorgeous, who visited the Manchester School of Art to launch this year’s Inspirer series. Cheddar is a drag artist based in Manchester whose work has been featured in ID, Vice magazine and the New York times.
“What I do” says Cheddar, is “drag, film, illustration and anthropology”.
After originally training as a social worker, Michael Atkins AKA Cheddar Gorgeous, went on to take an MA in visual anthropology, started to make films, completed a PhD in social anthropology and has been a drag artist since 2010. Cheddar has since revitalised the club scene in the UK, creating a safe space at Cha Cha Boudoir where people can play with identity and expression in an inclusive environment.
So what is drag?
- Is it about a man dressing up as a woman?
- Is it performance?
- Is it a career?
- Is it about blurring the boundaries between sexuality and gender?
- Can a woman do drag?
- What drag queens and kings have you heard of?
- Does the definition of ‘drag’ really refer back to Shakespearian convention (i.e. Dressed As A Girl?).
The answer to these questions are the following:
- It’s not only this. It’s about challenging conformity.
- Can be – but the options are limited
- Do your research but here are some for starters (RuPaul, Jack the Lad, Anna Phylactic)
- No! In reality the term refers to long skirts that drag along the floor.
Cheddar sees drag as an art of disruption, a way of negotiating identities. It is not about donning a mask to hide something but instead a conduit to bring something out about yourself. Cheddar talked of how we adopt different personas in our day-to-day lives – for work, for home, for university. Drag allows a hyper-realisation of these things, something that should be open to everyone.
At Cha Cha Boudoir the power of partying is celebrated, and that power should not be under-estimated or dismissed. A performance group sets wide-ranging themes for club nights which have led performers to tackle serious subjects including drug abuse, war, and anxieties surrounding surgery. Drag has the power to make you stop and think. Attention to both playful and serious themes means that drag can have a seriously therapeutic effect. It is also highly participatory as everyone is encouraged to take part, to have a route into that art.
Drag is socially engaged, it is about collage (“I am a collage performer”), and narrative. It is an art of disruptive play that is transformative. Drag can elicit confrontation but this is not a bad thing if it can lead to an appreciation of difference.
“This is why people who do art are so important and are really really brave. In doing art you are responding to the world, saying what you think and adding something into it.”