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2021 SPE Annual Conference: Imagining Legacy: Archives, Collections, and Memoria

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Erin Jennings

SPE Member since 2012
Member Chapter: South Central


The images within this body of work address how burlesque and drag performers function within a gendered, sexual space. Burlesque offers a thin veneer of empowerment to the performer, while still retaining an exploitative quality. This promotes an ambiguity concerning how burlesque fits in the realm of sexual exploitation, traditional and contemporary feminism, and how it affects the performer and the viewer. Is burlesque an exploitative act? Or does it empower the performer? Does it function as both an empowering and exploitative act, and what role does the viewer take within this paradox? Like burlesque, drag performance also functions within a sexual gendered space. The drag and burlesque images are two separate series that can be displayed independently of one another; however, they coexist within the same body of work due to the process with which the photographs are taken and the similarity in the nature of the performances themselves. While drag is female impersonation, the performers have a tendency to transcend what is traditionally feminine and push into what can be defined as a hyper-feminine space. Make-up becomes garish, clothing is exceptionally outrageous and exaggerated, as are the performances. This shares a similarity with burlesque not only in costuming and nature of performance, but in the act of projecting a facade that hyper-realizes the actuality of femininity. This project has much to do with feminine gender identity in that burlesque and drag performance distort femininity as inherently and necessarily intertwined with eroticism. The question of exploitation arises in drag as it does in burlesque. Is the mode of performance empowering or exploitative? Can it function as both an empowering and exploitative act? The societal reaction to drag and burlesque is similar in that both have been decried as detrimental to the mainstream perception of their respective minority. Neo-burlesque has been viewed as both an attack and on feminism and a feminist act; drag has been viewed both as a valid form of expression and empowerment, and an act that promotes stereotypes harmful to the LGBT community.
The photographs in this body of work address this socio-political ambiguity by negating straight photography. It utilizes techniques that distort the image and the figure to reveal many faces and postures, and allow the performers image to embrace the multiplicity inherent to the complicated reality of burlesque and drag performance.

Lady Doo Moi 2

Lady Doo Moi 1

Miss Lola Vee 1

Miss Rowdy Ann 1

Miss TaTas Tada

Faceless Burlesque 1

Faceless Burlesque 2

Lola Vee 3

Miss TaTas Tada

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