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Village Queens: Atlanta’s new royal family

Atlanta has a new royal family, and they intend to rule in sequin-studded high heels and fishnet stockings. 

Legendary Children is a photography exhibit hosted at Gallery 1526 that showcases Atlanta’s new class of drag queens. Self-described as “The Village Queens,” these ladies have expanded drag culture beyond the confines of gay clubs and deep into the dive bars of Atlanta.

The exhibit operates under the umbrella of Atlanta Celebrates Photography, the largest annual community-oriented photography festival in the nation that will sponsor exhibits in Atlanta through November 10.

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“Our [exhibit] is completely opposite than everyone else’s,” photographer Jon Dean explained. “I wanted to do a show during A3C because it’s a big festival and we wanted to have something going on that would draw in a crowd that wasn’t just people going to drag shows.”

The exhibit itself has garnered praise outside of Atlanta with positive write-ups from Vice and The Huffington Post.

Despite this attention and Atlanta’s reputation for homosexuality, Dean and the other photographers faced backlash from businesses who share the gallery. As a result, certain photographs have been censored.

“I think they have an issue with it affecting their business,” Dean said. “A lot of people misconstrued it as being about homophobia, and really the issue is the fact that we’re being censored.”

Two photographs in particular that include male nudity have been covered by a paper flap which can be lifted to view the full piece. The nudity sparked controversy within the gallery building despite the gallery featuring nude art in the past.

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“It’s shocking to people, and I think there’s a difference between seeing a naked man’s genitals and seeing a naked man’s genitals when he has fishnets and high heels on. It touches something else in people,” Dean explained.

Dean said that those who oppose the sexually explicit material still reside in the minority with many of the businesses supporting the photographs.

The content of the photographs ranges from surreal, dreamlike depictions of the queens to a catalog of their adventures in iconic Atlanta landmarks such as the Atlanta Zoo.

The Village Queens first banded together as they became dismayed with the pageantry of Atlanta’s drag scene.

“Drag is such a chimera of performance art, it doesn’t make sense to be sequestered to just one avenue,” said queen Cayenne Rouge. Rouge is a junior psychology major at Georgia State who joined the collective after entering the drag scene one year ago.

They started by searching for new audiences outside the stylistic boundaries of typical drag clubs. Rouge and fellow queen Brigitte Bidet began performing with bands such as Christ, Lord and Hello Ocho earlier this year to a warm reception from local audiences.

“We get better feedback from outside the scene than we do from inside it because drag is a very territorial sport,” says Bidet.

The new queens’ dynamic performances allowed drag to gain a foothold in unfamiliar venues such as Noni’s and Star Bar, where drag shows organized by The Village Queens have been wildly successful.

“We come into it as entertainers so that means our show works either in a gay bar, outside of a gay bar, at a festival, at a party, at a house show… We can be utilized in a number of different ways,” Bidet said.

The Village Queens consists of ten members, each with their own unique approach to their performance art.

For example, Violet Chachki is the only full-time drag queen out of the collective who centers her performances around burlesque tributes set to vintage-inspired music. Lavonia Elberton is a witch queen whose performances include anything from poetry readings to impromptu yoga classes.

Bidet specializes in singing and leading her audience from popular staples such as Barbara Streisand’s “Don’t Rain on my Parade” into Travis Porter’s trap hit “Make It Rain.”

“I like to do the bait and switch where you lead them down one avenue and then you flip it and then you bring it all back,” Bidet says.

Rouge describes herself as “the dramatic girl,” who specializes in lip-syncing with a flair for theater. As with the other queens, Rouge’s performances are malleable enough to branch in any number of directions.

“I do monologues with pop songs and base them on real life. I’ve done political stuff, I’ve done funny numbers, sad numbers, scary, sexy numbers,” Rouge explained. “Drag queens are supposed to be leaders, that’s why we inject culture into our performance.”

The Village Queens’ many facets have given them a new audience and given drag the same legitimacy granted to Atlanta’s greater art and music communities. Bidet hosts a weekly drag and variety show called Tossed Salad at Noni’s where she allows the audience to personally engage and become a part of the experience.

Bidet has participants perform karaoke with her onstage and always encourages the audience to dance onstage throughout the entire performance.

“Our performances are more about creating a feeling and an audience rather then being the most fishy girl,” Bidet explained. “The audience can find even more points of entry to identify with drag rather than seeing all these people project the same ideal.”

These Legendary Children are re-imagining the drag-scape of Atlanta, turning it into their playground where they distort perceptions, conduct drunken revelry and make drag available to anyone with an open mind and a taste for collective debauchery.

The Legendary Children closing reception will be held September 28. It will feature performances from all The Village Queens and all photographs will be uncensored as intended.

 

1 Comment

  1. Well said by everyone! 🙂 I am looking forward to the show this weekend and it will be a fantastic time- My only real concern now is that I hope we have enough room for all the guests! So- please arrive on time for the drag show performance and bring some money to tip and purchase the amazing art!

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