My drag is of an activist nature and it’s always political, always against capitalism, imperialism, patriarchy and colonialism. I try to promote body acceptance politics through my shows and show people that not all queens have to have bodies that meet the standards set by society. Drag gives you the opportunity to be not just a corset wearing, shaved and dolled up performer, but also an old queen with 8 cats at home, the one that yells at neighboring kids. That is my drag persona.
If you come to my show, you must be prepared that I might throw water at you, pinch your ass, might even lick you. You must be ready to lose an earring. Every time you think: “who would dare to do that?” I will.
Protest as an art form and first exposure to drag
Any kind of activism is art for me, that’s why I will always think of drag as art. For me, it is one of the oldest and most beautiful forms of Performance art, which is very versatile. Its boundaries are endless and it gives you so much opportunity and perspective, but you have to understand what a queer aesthetic is. In general, heteronormative performance art is has exhausted itself for me, it is very rare for someone to create something valuable in this direction and even if they do, it is mostly by eccident. In other cases, it is just performance for the sake of making a performance. Queer culture is a very specific thing, and if you don’t know it well, any attempt at straightwashing it is futile.
If you ask me, my first contact with drag was on March 8, on the steps of the parliament, when I uttered a speech and then the phrase: “My pussy is my choice”, got quoted and went viral. It is still quoted and that for me is drag. The first drag competition was organized by the Equality Movement and of course I lost because another drag queen, Sofia McQueen wiped the floor with me (laughs). Of course, I wasn’t angry about it, on the contrary, I was very happy, she did it so well and so beautifully, it was an amazing sight.
Tired queen against saints and Georgian Capm
My drag character, who is not very different from me, is very, very, very tired of society and traditional orthodoxy, and the only thing left for her to do is to trample all that is holy: crosses, saints, icons, etc.
Not So Virgin Mary came up during a conversation with friends. The topic of saints and the Mother of God came up, and since my name is Mari, I noted that I was the farthest saint from a virgin.
When I talk about my main inspiration, I always laugh. Whenever I talk to my drag queen friends about it they all name famous queens like: Devine, RuPaul, Lady Bunny, and when my turn comes I remember Verka Serduchka. The first drag performer I ever saw was Verka Serduchka, and if there’s anyone I consider my Drag Mother it’s her. Trash Culture is the main inspiration for my drag.
Camp is the right word to describe my shows. During the shows I can be angry, in a good mood, very sexy and provocative, but despite this, it will all be very funny and spectacular.
Camp is a political protest combined with satire. The clowns at the royal court, the one who showed the horrible reality in the funniest and most entertaining way possible.
Being a Queen as part of identity
On one hand, it can be said that hand drag has no rules, but there still are some small laws. Firstly and most importantly- don’t take yourself too seriously. If you can not ridicule yourself others will. Second and equally important- you must have something to say, just being pretty doesn’t cut it. And lastly, you breathe- ask for money, you sneeze- ask for money, you fix your hair- ask for money, never work for free, you are a queen and must know where you stand. But don’t forget that you are not the only queen, there are many queens and there is enough space for all of us.
Preparation for performances begins with the search for a concept. There is a theme and I try to weave a story around it. This will be followed by Samgori second hand and looking for a makeup artist, because I have a very bad hand and can’t do make-up on my own. Then comes the costume. Before making the shows, my friend and director Salome Bauer helps me, who also gives me her ideas. I, of course, ignore everything and do as I want. This is how a huge vagina installation was created for Tbilisi Pride Fest. The next stage is to prepare the performance, arrive at the venue, see the stage and lighting. Then rehearsals and finally it turns out that there is no stage, no lighting. Then a heart attack, changing everything, rearranging (laughs).
After finishing your makeup, you become a completely different person. At the first Drag Ball organized by Tbilisi Pride and the initiative group (Gyorgi Cheminava, Davit Gogishvili, Mate Khidesheli), I remember that after finishing the makeup I got into a big fight, for no reason at all, and kept apologizing the whole day next day. I acted like a real queen, I didn’t remember anything anymore… After the transformation, you really become a queen, you become a different person- don’t touch me, make way, do you want to take a photo? Stand in line and prepare 20 GEL.
The Not-So-Virgin Mari Beyond Drag and the Unstoppable LGBTQ+ Community
I’m pretty much the same person outside of drag, I just don’t have that much confidence and tactlessness, I’m more polite. In order to survive, I have to work as a freelancer. There’s not much difference between me and my drag persona. In a patriarchal, orthodox world, your identity is already a form of protest—the fact that you are a woman, don’t shave your legs, walk down the street without a bra, is already a performance, and you go into defensive mode. The same goes for feminine gays, trans women, butch lesbians, etc.
It took us a long time, but the LGBTQ+ community has grown and is ready to talk about some topics boldly and publicly. After 2013, everything has changed, we are not going to be silent anymore and it is clear why. Even July 5 could not silence us and we continue to grow. Same goes for Drag. The buzz around it can be explained by the fact that there is almost nothing hetero left in modern art, everything is gay and people will have to get used to it little by little. The biggest and most influential modern Georgian artist is Demna Gvasalia, and if you look closely, all his work is fed by drag culture. It’s drag from head to toe. People don’t want art influenced by Soviet mentality anymore.
Drag is very expensive. Despite the fact that there are many talented women in Georgia who are ready to put all their energy into all this and can create the best look even for 1 GEL, we must learn to tip. Different venues also need to understand that you have to pay more for Queens shows because it’s not just a few minute show, there’s weeks of work behind that 5 minute performance. If we want to do quality drag, the audience should learn to tip and the venues should appreciate the work accordingly.