¡El Arte no Calla! - Episode 12: Drag Queen Art and the Demand for Change in Colombia, with Myth Drag Queen.
"¡El Arte no Calla!,” a monthly Spanish-language podcast of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), explores art, freedom of expression, and human rights in Latin America. In each episode, ARC's Latin America Representative Alessandro Zagato will invite a different guest to help analyze the varying states of artistic freedom in Latin America and the violations that artists and activists are suffering in the region.
¡El Arte no Calla! - Episode 12: Drag Queen Art and the Demand for Change in Colombia, with Myth Drag Queen
In this episode of ¡El Arte no Calla! we interview Myth Drag Queen, a queer performance artist from Colombia whose participation in the current national mobilizations and protests made her internationally famous. Myth reflects on her trajectory as an activist and artist, highlighting the importance of drag queen art as a platform to make visible and address some of the problems that are deeply shaping her country, and that constitute the reasons for the current conflict.
Alessandro Zagato: Can you tell us about who you are and your artistic trajectory?
Myth Drag Queen: I have been an activist here in the city of Medellin, Colombia for more than three years. My artistic career started in 2011, when I became involved in an artistic group at the university. I became passionate about all aspects of theatrical production, dramaturgy, the creation of characters, and so on - and this is where I really started to freely express myself. I had previously considered myself a serious, silent, and somehow withdrawn person. With time I started applying those principles and learnings to my personal and professional life. Now in October it will be 10 years of artistic engagement and it is fantastic to look back at my work and the doors that I have opened – and being invited to participate in this podcast feels very nice.
A.Z.: I would like to learn more about the context where you operate as an artist. How are drag queens, and LGTBQ art, in general perceived in Colombia? What is the purpose of such art to you?
M.D.Q.: Before showing my drag queen persona to the public, I used to do it at home for fun and pleasure. However, in 2018, with a very personal and creative aim, I decided to take it to the stage. I started to attend a comedy school with Colombian humorist Crisanto Vargasvil, from Antioquia. I had to display an artistic act, and that’s how my drag queen was born on stage. Thereafter I established contact with several LGBT boards and collectives of the city of Medellin, who do incredible work of visibilization and fighting for rights, also through public talks, and cartography work – so they were inviting me to take part not just in the performative part of their activity, but also in the denunciation of problems like inequality, homophobia, racism and discrimination. My granddad is from Antioquia and I inherited from him afro-descendant, highland, and popular roots – and these features allow me to raise my voice for all the groups represented in this complex genealogic trio. Slowly I started working in night clubs, understanding drag art as not just working at night but as something to be taken to public institutions and events. In 2019, I was part of a wonderful project called “El Mito del Drag,” which allowed me to travel to different towns in the region with Antioquia Municipality and give talks about my art and the meaning of being man and woman in a territory that has been deeply shaped by machismo and that has slowly opened up to understanding diversity.
A.Z.: Some images of you and your friends marching in the context of the protests in Colombia and in particular of the national strike on May 1st went viral. How did this initiative take shape? How does it connect with your life as an artist?
M.D.Q.: As I said before, my activity as a drag queen doesn’t consist just of shows and nightlife. Myth is not just an unreachable character, or the queen of the night. I consider drag to be a political, social, communicational, and cultural tool, which also serves to amplify the problems that we experience. It is no secret what is currently happening in Colombia. A social mobilization that started in 2019 was interrupted by the pandemic and has acquired a new strength in recent times. Especially on the first of May, when we took to the streets, not just to support the national strike but to visibilize and dignify drag art as work, since it requires professional training in theater, vocal and body expression. I use drag to highlight different forms of life and perspectives.
The first of May was the first time that I participated in the protests. We achieved an enormous echo, at a national and international level - and this is why our message has arrived to spaces like ¡El Arte no Calla!, which I truly value and respect. I am interested in giving testimony about struggle and dissidence from my own abilities, knowledge, and experience - as a person considered to be different, and who has been the object of disdain, and who now can become empowered from her position.
A.Z.: In the context of these social protests and repression shaping Colombia, do you think that attacks against LGBTQ people have increased?
M.D.Q.: Here in Colombia we have a record of events that happened between 2020 and 202 that shows that more than forty trans women were assassinated in this time due to transphobia. This is a problem that touches us directly. For having exposed myself politically, I started receiving a lot of information on police attacks on civil society and protesters, or about armed civilian groups taking to the streets to informally support police repression. As a drag queen artist and as a queer person I can amplify the denunciation of what is happening, through different platforms. On my social networks I always share news about what is going on in the country.
A.Z.: What is your wish or vision for the future of Colombia, and what role do you think artists can play in this change?
M.D.Q.: I am deeply convinced that art can transform people’s lives and perceptions. Art is also a very powerful pedagogical tool. Now for example I am developing a project to be implemented in the Colegio Mayor de Antioquia University to generate critical thinking among students on gender identities and dissident sexualities – and through a series of interviews that we have recorded with drag and LGBTQ people from our community. This is a clear example that drag art can expose and be a channel of communication to generate awareness on these topics. Obviously it would be too romantic to think that a day will come when we will respect each other's differences, when we will be able to love without fear or when I will be allowed to hold my partner´s hand on the street without people staring weirdly at us. I envision a society where different ways of loving, caring, and expressing one's identity are respected and not hidden.