This essay examines Andy Warhol’s Ladies and Gentlemen (1975) series of paintings, prints, collages, and drawings of African American and Latino drag queens. It compares Warhol’s representation of this group of drag queens, most of whom were also prostitutes who frequented the Gilded Grape bar, with the work of the activist group the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), cofounded by one of the drag queens Warhol painted, Marsha P. Johnson. Through careful attention to form and process, and drawing on José Esteban Muñoz’s work on disidentification, the author argues that Warhol found these drag queens exciting and attractive not only because they embodied a capacity for liking and being alike that he valued throughout his career, but also because this combination of liking and being alike was the basis of a queer way of being with each other. The Ladies and Gentlemen series thus not only documents a specific collectivity of drag queens, it also indicates the affective and aesthetic forces bringing the collectivity together, and in so doing also represents the mimetic ties and the group attunement that made STAR possible, providing an analogue of STAR’s queer, disidentificatory mode of being with. At the same time, Warhol’s aesthetic practice, one that highlights and itself imitates the precise operations of the mimetic faculty within drag practice, was an act of liking and a way to participate in the way of being with one another that he saw in these drag queens.
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Jonathan Flatley; Just Alike. Social Text 1 December 2014; 32 (4 (121)): 87–104. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01642472-2820448
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