Examples of different types of drag body padding in the foreground; peaking through to Trevor Anderson’s red dress from The Little Deputy, Darrin Hagen’s mermaid tail and Rusty Strutz’s pom pom jumpsuit. Photos by Blaine Campbell.

Glitz, glamour and grace: New MAG exhibition tells the stories behind the costumes

January 26, 2021 | Arts & Culture

The latest exhibition at the Mitchell Art Gallery (MAG) has glitz, glamour and grace, and you're invited to take a sneak peek into the wardrobes of the drag and burlesque artists who call Edmonton home.

Dress & Escapism: Performance of Identity through Drag and Burlesque Costume explores the relationship between costumes and identity within the art forms of drag and burlesque.

Over the past year, Josée Chartrand, guest curator and assistant professor in MacEwan's Department of Theatre, developed her own special relationship to the costumes on display in exhibition. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Chartrand was challenged with designing and installing the costume displays alone over the holiday break, but says the experience was one of the highlights of the show for her.

"Measuring the garments and looking at photographs of the performers in action, I worked to construct 'bodies' for each costume using batting, nylons and fosshape padded over fibreglass and plastic mannequins," says Chartrand. "This process allowed me to forge a deeper relationship with each costume, and in some ways, with each performer."

Chartrand and MAG staff hope they can foster that same relationship between the exhibition and its viewers, who can explore the costumes through online tours and events.

Programming includes conversations with the curator and collaborations with MacEwan's Centre for Sexual and Gender Diversity, as well as exhibition response videos from the drag and burlesque artists whose costumes are featured.

Costumes to look for include the red bustle gown featured in Trevor Anderson's short film, The Little Deputy, and pieces from the collection of Darrin Hagin, MacEwan’s current writer in residence and an icon in Edmonton's drag scene.

"Drag and burlesque are highly emotive art forms that both use costume to communicate their intended story," says Chartrand. "While the experience and meaning behind any burlesque or drag performance is unique to each artist’s aesthetic, gender, character and style, the costume an artist wears has a direct impact on the performance they can give."

Many of the costumes on display were selected in collaboration with contributing artists/performers via video calls. The artists walked Chartrand through their extensive costume collections and talked about each piece.

"Through that dialogue, we chose which pieces they felt best represented them to showcase in the exhibition," she says. "Each interview was unique and very collaborative."

About the curator

Chartrand has worked in MacEwan's Department of Theatre for the past six years in roles such as costume designer, wardrobe practicum monitor and sessional instructor before becoming an assistant professor in 2019. Prior to her time at MacEwan, she co-curated an exhibition on the "misfits" of 21st century clothing at the University of Alberta while completing her master of arts in material culture.

The Dress & Escapism series had been an idea for a few years. Part one of the Dress Research Exhibition Series (Dress & Escapism: Dress Artifacts & Curatorial Practices) is available online at the U of A's Human Ecology Gallery, and was lead curated by Dr. Anne Bissonnette, with contributing work by Chartrand and Katelin Karbonik.

"As a whole, the series aims to explore what can be learned from clothing, and how that knowledge can be used through different aspects of dress, history and dress interpretation," says Chartrand.

Part two (Dress & Escapism: Performance of Identity through Drag and Burlesque Costume) was curated exclusively by Chartrand for the Mitchell Art Gallery as part of the exhibition series.



Mitchell Art Gallery

MAG is a professional public art gallery dedicated to engaging timely conversations and community through contemporary art. 

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