But We Are Still Here: Interview with a Drag King

by Seán McHugh

Following their much celebrated performances at the Late at Tate Modern workshop But We Are Still Here; FTS sits down with the premiere London Drag King Collective: Pecs to discuss drag, activism and the importance of visibility in modern times.

  Photo Credit: twitter.com/pecsdrag

Photo Credit: twitter.com/pecsdrag

As part of the Late at Tate Modern series, But We Are Still Here is a workshop that asks attendants to reconsider how we produce and reproduce culture through everyday activities. Framed through the work of Heather Agyepong, Agyepong explores her Ghanaian Ashanti heritage by reimagining herself as Ghanaian Ashanti Warrior Yaa Asantewaa in her photography to invoke a discussion and consideration on issues including gender, race, exclusion and erasure. Supplemented by zine making activities, question contribution boards and a performance by Pecs: the London based drag king collective the workshop asks an important question: How do we produce culture that renders itself and others visible and invisible?

  Photo Credit: Yaa, Heather Agyepong, 2017, heatheragyepong.com

Photo Credit: Yaa, Heather Agyepong, 2017, heatheragyepong.com

Championing a focus on visibility, privilege and progress the workshop asks attendants to truly consider how the actions of each person should be considered in framing a collaborative future for progress. A true representation of Agyepong’s statement for consideration and change comes from the performance of drag kings Izzy Aman and Drag King Cole from the drag king collective Pecs.

  Photo Credit: pecdragkings.com

Photo Credit: pecdragkings.com

Putting on a humorous and entertaining show with a central political message, the performance began with the Izzy Aman’s clean military look, five o’clock shadow and aviator sunglasses. Remixing 80’s action film clips, Izzy showed off homages to Topgun and Die Hard with a high-energy military-training style dance moves. Slowly building with serious overtones, Izzy finally embodies a serious military scene and walks off stage to birdsong as the performance goes beyond the action films to consider the reality of violence through this culture of hypermasculinity. After rapturous applause Drag King Cole took the stage in a grey tracksuit and short dyed hair. Bringing together a variety of rap extracts from N.W.A up to contemporary artists, Cole juxtaposed his rap performance with extracts of interviews with family members of those people of colour killed by police both nationally and internationally. Focusing the lack of action against this violence, Cole brought a powerful performance that considers the culture of visible and invisible violence we each individually contribute to.

Following these fantastic performances I was lucky enough to sit down with Isabel Adomakoh Young a.k.a Izzy Aman and get the opportunity for a brief interview about Pecs, being a London Drag King and how Agyepong’s message within But We Are Still Here resonates through her performance.

  Photo Credit: Izzy Aman, pecsdragkings.com

Photo Credit: Izzy Aman, pecsdragkings.com

So I’d like to start by just asking how was Pecs formed?

So Pecs Drag Kings, we’re founded by basically two friends, Temi Wilkey and Celine Lowenthal, and as far as I can tell they had a drunken conversation in a back garden about power, gender, society, art. They are two very bright women so I imagine it was a great conversation. And at the end of it they said “We’re going to set up a drag troupe!” and that was the culmination.  

And what about the performative medium of drag drew you in so much?

At the time I just did it because I was interested, I pretty much just said yes to whatever was going on. But then this so rapidly became something that really was a chance to explore how intellectual drag is through our approach to it. It’s physical, intellectual and entertainment but it’s also activism. There’s so much potential in it, specifically drag kinging.

So as a drag king in the London scene, do you find it difficult? Do you find yourself faced with much inequality?

I can only speak for myself and really Pecs is a company so as a rule we only perform our full length shows together so we’re in some ways insulated from the scene but we’ve started to branch out; obviously with tonight. Every now and then we’ve been doing a mixed bill and people have always been super welcoming but within the queer scene, all too often it’s weighed that your fee is measured up against your prominence. And obviously drag kings are lightyears behind drag queens in terms of public perception. But I think we’re worth millions! And shout out to the Tate for really looking after us.

  Photo Credit: dragkingpecs.com

Photo Credit: dragkingpecs.com

In relation to the Tate modern itself this workshop focused on how culture is produced and becomes visible and invisible. How do you feel about drags current visibility in the mainstream?

I think it’s being broadly recognised more than ever before. It seems almost exclusively drag queening. Which is a shame but it’s not something I particularly blame the queens for. I think it’s what the public are more exposed to. I would love to see things more shaken up. I really want more to know that drag is always breaking boundaries and asking questions and for me, in my limited experience, that’s being done a lot more by kings than queens.

So in terms of that statement in relation to the exhibition today do you see drag kinging as a significant political tool moving into the future?

Yeah, maybe! I hope people that see it get more than a cheap laugh. Like what I am doing with this act is taking all these clips from 80’s action films and taking it from a comedy to a tragedy while trying to subvert this idea of hypermasculinity. And kudos to Heather for giving us the platform and making drag kings more visible in a mainstream institution like the Tate Modern. Also her photo project about Yaa Asantewa means a lot to me because I'm Ashanti and named after her and have never seen her portrayed in modern/Western culture.

Wow, it’s so great to see your performance come together with so many aspects of this workshop. My only final question is what’s in the future for Pecs?

Isabel: Well after an amazing debut at The Glory we are bringing our 80s Show to the Soho theatre from the 4th to the 9th of December with a lot of nights already sold out so get your tickets! And for more info and updates on future show we’re on Facebook, Twitter and have our own website if you just search Pecs Drag Kings.

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Kabyashree Saikia