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Drag Attacks the Country - Painting through social distancing

Painting of drag queen in nature with a tractor in the background
Painting of drag queen in nature with a tractor in the background

Written by
Post-Grad Community
Published date
29 April 2020

By Claudio Pestana, MA Fine Art Painting, Camberwell College of Arts

The core theme of my MA Fine Art Painting research is violence in painting. Throughout history there have been many painters who depicted collective violence adopting a range of perspectives, but before the 20th Century, most artists tended to depict war in heroic tales with opulent battlefield landscapes. In my practice I am interested in hijacking the symbolic power of contemporary spectacle in order to subvert and expose the myths, hypocrisy and violence that it promotes. I am acutely aware that artefacts carry symbolic power and I aim to use my paintings as tools to challenge oppressive socio-political and cultural narratives.

I am social distancing in Dorset in the depths of the countryside so I started thinking about how as a non-binary ‘foreign’ person I fit into the landscape of this county with its specific social topography. I am surrounded by a sense of the conservative (evidenced by the voting statistics of the county) so I started reflecting on the symbolic power that those around me hold. Bourdieu (1984) described symbolic power as representing unconscious modes of socio-political and cultural domination that is played out in everyday interactions within a social hierarchy. For Bourdieu, cultural categories are used to make certain ideas thinkable and others unthinkable and the accepted ideas can become instruments of domination that legitimise a given social order.

So in my current painting practice, as a gesture of subversive resistance, I have hijacked the pastoral and invaded its conservative landscape by juxtaposing self-portraits of me in drag onto rural scenes that carry a certain symbolic power or even violence. I have started painting this series titled ‘Fag Attacks the Country’ on paper (a roll that I had in the studio and was able to take with me before the University closed) with the materials that I have at hand and I have experimented with using ground coffee to depict muddy soil. My studio is now in a converted stable.

The mood of the paintings?

take me take me take me

oh country

take me

stop the chase

the furtive eyes

brows raised

queer love is just as sacred

but they can say-see what they want




Caress my body with your gaze

I know you want to.

Follow on Claudio on Instagram @cmdcp

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