Legitimising drag to the public
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New research completed by a UCT anthropology PhD graduate aims to demystify drag and burlesque performance.
Lindy-Lee Prince graduated last week during a virtual ceremony held by the university, and aims to “legitimise drag to the public”.
Prince’s academic career began with a BA degree, majoring in anthropology and Mandarin at the University of Stellenbosch. This was followed by an Honours degree at the same institution.
Prince completed a Master’s degree in 2013, that focused solely on drag.
“I started doing drag myself. Bubbles Bar opened in Cape Town, and I became more engaged with drag as an art form in that space.”
Prince added: “The space was so rich in having drag present in Cape Town. They created a space for amateur drag performers, so I was able to perform in that space.”
At the time of Prince's Master's degree, the insurgence of drag had begun with RuPaul’s Drag Race, and Prince described it as a “new world opening up”.
After completing the Master's degree, Prince reflected on the examiner's reports and saw that one examiner noted that “burlesque was becoming more present in Cape Town”.
“I viewed it as a sister art form to drag. Both art forms look at hyper-feminine performance, and that’s why I married the two," Prince said.
Prince’s family didn’t understand drag until it became an academic endeavour. “The study legitimised drag to my family."
Prince added: "I felt that if academic work about drag has the power to do that in my family - perhaps it has the power to do that for other people too.”
Prince’s Master's research on drag looked at situational performance and how circumstances change how people perform themselves and characters, to different audiences.
“With my PhD, I looked at drag and burlesque through performance, character formulation and ended up looking at unpacking male gaze theory.”
Prince explained that with live performances, the performer and the audience look back at each other.
"Male gaze theory was created for men as the audience, viewing performers in a certain way. That kind of thinking is problematic and needed to be addressed.''
Prince added: “In burlesque and drag spaces, the audience is mixed and queer. These are not people that male gaze theory was designed for. It is not effective towards these two art forms."
Prince is currently completing postdoctoral research at UCT, working with Professor Floretta Boonzaier on an advancing women project.
“I want to teach and stay in academia and share my experiences with other students," Prince said.
"South Africa does not have many visual anthropologists. I would like to teach it because it is a great medium to tell people’s stories.”