Drag Queens Celebrated with Exhibit at Key West Art & Historical Society’s Custom House Museum

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A colorful, zoomed-in view of Key West's famed drag queens and the men who embody them spotlights the talented entertainers and their inspirations, finery, lives, and role in the island's culture.

Key West Art & Historical Society

Inga, one of Key West, Florida’s, famous larger than life drag queens, reacts to the new Key West Art & Historical Society exhibit “What a Drag!” which opened with a gala celebration in September.

“The drag queens are central to the life of the LGTB community in Key West but also to local philanthropy,” says Convertito. “There are several charitable events that take place throughout the year, and the queens are always present."

Key West’s glitzy and glamorous drag queens have gained applause above and beyond the cabaret stage with “What a Drag!”, an exhibit at Key West Art & Historical Society’ s Custom House Museum in Key West, Florida. More than 300 people gathered for the opening Gala reception on September 18 for a “backstage” look at the talented entertainers and their inspirations, finery, lives, and role in the island’s culture at the exhibit which continues until December 2.

The colorful, zoomed-in view of Key West’s famed queens and the men who emody them features costumes, wigs, shoes, and other finery on loan from the local men who create and portray the flamboyant female characters, carefully curated by Exhibitions Curator Cori Convertito, PhD.

Topics include a peek into drag artists’ daily glamour rituals, the cabaret theaters where they perform, and how the audience perceives the role of drag queens in Key West. Also featured are distinctive photographs and the iconic, glittering red shoe from which world-famous drag queen Sushi rings in each New Year by dropping two stories at the stroke of midnight to the delight of throngs on Duval Street and millions of viewers via annual CNN coverage.

The exhibit explores the overall role of the playful performers in the community, with emphasis placed on their frequent participation in local philanthropic and charity events where they donate their time and talents to raise funds for those in need.

“The drag queens are central to the life of the LGTB community in Key West but also to local philanthropy,” says Convertito. “There are several charitable events that take place throughout the year, and the queens are always present. Their fundraising efforts-historically and present-day-benefit local non-profits including AIDS Help, the Hospice and Visiting Nurse Association, Helpline, Metropolitan Community Church, the Leukemia Society, Wildlife Rescue of the Florida Keys, and the local SPCA.”

Exhibit attendees can also peruse historic paraphernalia and media documentation, highlighting the queens’ presence in the island’s marketing efforts with colorful images that frequently appear on posters, commercials, travel blogs and books, making them a central element to the unique appeal of Key West as both a place to live and visit.

“This is a true acknowledgement of our culture, our history, our community,” says one of the event’s sponsors Dave Sieminski, owner of Leather Master of Key West. “We are all about our community, and we embrace our community. We don’t see colors; we don’t see genders; we just see each other. That’s why we’re here.”

Others exhibit sponsors include the Key West Business Guild, Aqua Bar and Nightclub, and Monkey Apple Art Factory. “What a Drag!” remains on display through Dec 2 at the Custom House Museum located at 281 Front Street in Key West. For more information visit kwahs.org or contact Curator Cori Convertito, PhD at 305-295-6616 ext. 112.

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Carol Tedesco
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