Drag makeovers: How makeup goes from cosmetic to art

Beyond gender bending, Drag Queens use their faces and their bodies as canvases to turn themselves into walking, breathing artworks

When watching any drag makeup tutorial, one can tell there are specific strategic steps to transforming a face. For instance, drag queens glue down their eyebrows to achieve a smooth canvas, which allows for a broader lid space and a complex, colorful look. Techniques like this are reminiscent of techniques painters learn when studying oil painting, or watercolors.

Even though drag art is widely known in the United States or Europe, thanks to TV shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race, it also blooms in Latin America. Colombia’s capital, for example, holds a fastest growing scene of drag performance at different nightclubs, to the point where Queens from the famous reality show RuPaul’s Drag Race come to perform. One of the local leading ladies, who goes by Miss Ariel, explained to Latin American Post that she believes that “yes, all of this is part of art [even though it does not go inside museums]. This is art applied to daily life”.

Like everything in our consumerist world, makeup comes with multiple variating connotations: it is for women, typically seen as something only females of certain ages can wear. It is a tool designed to hide the imperfections and to enhance the most feminine and delicate features of the face: skin must look smoother, lips must look redder and perfectly shaped, cheeks blushed, eyelashes long, eyebrows defined.  

However, if you grab a tube of lipstick, objectively speaking, there is nothing about it that says it is only for women, or only meant to be used in a specific way. This is a paradigm that drag queens have been breaking for decades.

As the British magazine TQS puts it: “A drag queen is usually explained as a man (usually gay) impersonating a women, or several women, for the purpose of entertainment or performance. They can range from those who do it as a job to those who do it as a form of artistic expression”. Also, dressing up as drag is directly tied to live performance, which typically involves entertainment at a nightclub, lip syncing, and dancing.  

In the art scene, Andy Warhol is one of the most famous artists who have taken gender bending to the museum walls, specifically with the series “Altered Image” (1980’s). Other artists had previously taken it upon themselves to create provocative images through dressing up as women, such as Man Ray in the 20’s. However, like Miss Ariel stated, Drag makeup and dressup goes beyond museum walls, particularly when it comes to performance.

Latin American Post | Laura Rocha Rueda

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