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South Asian drag stars demand visibility with Brown Drag Exists campaign

South Asian drag stars demand visibility with Brown Drag Exists campaign

  • Asifa Lahore says mainstream drag is excluding them because of ‘ignorance’ and ‘blatant racism’.
Some of the #BrownDragExists performers.

South Asian drag artists have created a Brown Drag Exists campaign to demand visibility – saying the drag mainstream is excluding them.

They took action after Buzzfeed and The Drag Bible published a list of drag influencers in April. It was internationally diverse but left out anyone of South Asian heritage. Buzzfeed removed the article and The Drag Bible pledged to be more inclusive in future.

But now trans Muslim drag star Asifa Lahore has rallied her fellow South Asian queens under the hashtag #BrownDragExists.

Together they have created personal and compilation videos on social media to showcase their talents.

Lahore said excluding South Asian drag talent was far too common:

‘This trend is prevalent in mainstream drag and LGBT+ communities, be them virtual on social media platforms, or in physical spaces such as bars, clubs and Prides where few or no South Asian drag performers feature.

‘RuPaul’s Drag Race franchise has not featured a single queen of South Asian heritage in its many international variants.’

South Asian drag artists performing for the #BrownDragExists campaign.
South Asian drag artists performing for the #BrownDragExists campaign. Supplied

People see Indian drag ‘through the lenses of RuPaul queens’

The campaign showcases a vast range of the South Asian drag world. It brings together drag queens, drag kings, androgynous queens and kings, non-binary drag, tranimal drag and cultural drag.

One of the queens involved is Patruni Sastry, a 27-year-old drag artist from Hyderabad, India. GSN recently shared the story of how they brought drag to their city. They told us that the drag establishment is often blind to this rich South Asian culture.

Sastri said: ‘Even in India, people see drag through a lens of westernization. Though Indian drag performers constantly strive to bring regional flavors to drag, they always appear through the lenses of RuPaul queens.

‘India has been making steep progress in creating more and more drag spaces in multiple cities like Hyderabad, Delhi and Bangalore. But the county still lacks acceptance to empower Indian drag styles.’

Drag artist Karma Sutra compiled the Brown Drag Exists videos to overcome this. She said:

‘The idea was to showcase how diverse drag is and bring out the uniqueness of South Asian drag performers and their originality towards the approach of drag. We compiled around 27 artists across the globe to put up a message that South Asian Drag exists across the globe.’

South Asian drag artists performing for the #BrownDragExists campaign.
#BrownDragExists brings together South Asian drag artists living around the world. Supplied

‘We have to fight the hardest and the loudest’

Moreover, Lahore points out that South Asian drag talent can be found around the world. In particular the South Asian diaspora covers the USA, Canada, UK, New Zealand, Australia, the West Indies and Africa. She adds:

‘To suggest that queens from a South Asian background don’t exist internationally is to be a perpetrator of erasure. 

‘This is a harsh reality facing those from a South Asian background wanting to follow a career in drag, cabaret, burlesque and the performing arts. 

‘We have to fight the hardest and the loudest in order to be heard or our art to be seen. In many cases we are denied work and opportunities because our art is either not understood, too political or too risky.

‘More often than not this is down to pure ignorance, a lack of research, the unwillingness to listen, understand and blatant racism.’

Lahore and her fellow drag queens and kings hope to gain a place ‘at the table of mainstream drag’. Meanwhile they have started the process by creating the campaign to ‘spill the masala tea’.