I paint naked drag in flesh layers.
I coined the term naked drag in my dissertation at the Royal College of Art 2021. The dissertation was written on the power of the pose in contemporary art and art history to both identify and deconstruct gender roles. Naked drag is what it sounds like - gender subversive poses by naked bodies.
Judith Butler called for drag to expose gender for what it is - a performance. The parody and over exaggeration reveals the gender roles, and the subversion of sexes shows that it can be performed by either sex. My work aims to reach a transcendence, to confuse gender to the point of ultimately becoming obsolete. I believe everyone is non-binary, beneath the construction of gender.
The project naked drag started in 2014 at the end of my Bachelor at Curtin University in Perth, Australia. I took iconic nude poses from fashion advertising, and made my models pose the same way as those images, only that I subverted the gender, so I would have male identified models posing after female nude fashion images and vice versa. The patterns became clear when confronted with subversions - the female poses seductive but passive, male seductive but active. The poses pose the inevitable question: what happens when men are posed as the other, and when women are posed as men? I am interested in asking the question and provoking thought rather than supplying an ultimate answer.
What I do differently now is that I let my models perform their own poses during the photoshoot, after asking them to find their own inner drag persona. It is a way for me to loosen control of the process and let the models take a larger part of the shape of the artwork and give them their own agency.
Flesh layers come from the process and materiality of my painting practice. I paint with layers of 4 colours, and I apply one layer with one colour at a time and let it dry before I add the next. Each layer is leaving traces of the previous layers and the underlying drawing sipping through. In revealing the process to the viewer and leaving part of the painting unfinished, I reveal the skeleton of the painting – the underlying drawing. I deconstruct what painting of skin is made of and also, metaphorically, what skin is made of as layer by layer of pure colour is peeled away. Furthermore, what gender is made of in the nude in painting history. While part of the painting is rendered to the point of a hyperrealistic iridescent skin, other parts are stripped down to their bones. Except here there is no flesh and bones. Instead there is a drawing that reminds us of a map rather than the traditional drawing of a nude. I circle where the shadows begin and end rather than filling the shadows in with regular hatching techniques, just like a map encircles the corruption of the landscape - I circle the corruption of the body and all its ‘flaws’.
Cecilia Ulfsdotter Klementsson