Take a Drag 2011

Recently back from a few luscious weeks in Bali, for some yoga in the rice fields and to revisit the girls at the old Hulu Café.  Not entirely sure what to expect since last year and wondering which girls have come and gone.  Hoping for the old regulars, particularly fabulous Sylvia who’s english was grand, and so helped remove one barrier of getting to know the girls real world.

The old Hulu, which burnt down a few years ago, opened in 1990 by a Melbournian butcher located in the back streets of Legian.  It was the first drag venue in Bali staging professional drag shows six nights a week.

Sylvia 2009 © Cynthia Sciberras

My first visit in 2005 with my Nikon FE2 analogue, was photographing from the perspective of an audience member, capturing the performance of the diva impersonators as a voyeur. However I quickly became intrigued and determined to know more about this underground culture, and so ventured backstage to the dressing room, where I’ve revisited each year since.

These days, the girls perform at the Bali Beach Shack, new owners, new customers, new dinner and show package, and new dressing room.  The narrow and small make shift dressing room, come storage room for the unused Bintang beer crates certainly makes for intimate Environmental Portraiture.

Take a Drag portrait series was developed over a number of years where I initially set out to explore the boundaries of culturally defined gender.  And here I found it, within a marginalized community in Indonesia.

The initial images I captured on film had some special intimate authenticity, I felt resembled the kind you found in theatre, and this became rather intriguing and intoxicating. Although it wasn’t enough to be back stage, I wanted to know more about the girls and their world.

Take a Drag 2011

Take a Drag 2011

Take a Drag

From backstage and behind my camera, I entered a whole other world to the curious boisterous audience. I would watch the exaggerated female‐like poses, become less driven to perform and ignore the camera to reveal themselves as ordinary, somewhat alienated men.

I suppose I did set out to provoke the question of ‘what drives gender‘. To these men who wished to be viewed as women, gender became a performance, a parade in which they get into their props associated with femaleness.

 

Take a Drag 2011

Take a Drag 2011

Take a Drag 2011

Take a Drag 2011

Take a Drag 2011

Waria, Bencong, Banci di Bali

Indonesia has a large gay population, and Bali has become a tourist magnet for gays from all around the world. Sexual liberation is and had been a part of Indonesia’s ancient cultures, with a long history of transvestite entertainers, hostesses and prostitutes in Bali, known as ‘banci’, ‘waria’ or ‘benchong’.

Banci is a nationwide [and somewhat derogatory] term for male-to-female transvestites; two well-known bahasa gay/banci variants of the term are binan and bencong.

The age of consent for both gay and heterosexual sex is sixteen-years-old, however the expectation with Balinese society is to marry and produce.  It is not unusual for gay Balinese men to pursue a gay lifestyle for a number of years, before social and family pressures to marry take hold.  It is also quite common for gay Balinese men to continue to have gay relationships after they have married.

Take a Drag 2011

Needless to say, Bali is also a holiday favorite for many Australians, and these drag cabaret shows are now just what the majority of tourists come to see from Kuta’s crazy crass nightlife.  There are a few drag venues that have opened in the recent years, however none can compare to the underground thrill of the old Hulu Café.

Take a Drag 2011

Take a Drag 2011

For me this time round, I didn’t quite make it into their world like I intended.  However it became somewhat interesting to shoot the audience as it did the actual performers backstage.  In fact, the audience was a performance in itself.  So hopefully I’ll be back next year to see what more I can capture.

There still remains a need for me to celebrate individuality and tolerance, in a world full of judgment and the essential beauty of each individual, regardless of gender or sexual preference.

Take a Drag 2011

Take a Drag 2011

Take a Drag © Cynthia Sciberras 2011

NOTE

Being gay and doing drag is not necessarily the same. This relationship between homosexuality and gender identification is complicated, however the skills involved in doing drag are widely learnt and know in the homosexual subculture.

Take a Drag first exhibited during the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras 2010, commissioned by the Seymour Centre then later in Daylesford Victoria at the Can’t Think Straight Gallery.

Check out gallery on my site for Take a Drag images from 2005.

Images are available to purchase framed or unframed.

Hope you enjoyed that little taste backstage!

Bali Beach Shack, Kuta

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