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Kelly Boner Curates Drag as Fine Art

Fulfilled Fantasies: Contemporary Chicago Drag Works opens at Columbia February 28.

‘Khloe Park’ by Helen Maurene Cooper
Khloe Park, Helen Maurene Cooper

Kelly Schmader, 31, is perhaps best known as the drag performer Kelly Boner. But she also works as a curator, and for Fulfilled Fantasies: Contemporary Chicago Drag Works, a free exhibit opening February 28 at Columbia College’s Hokin Project Gallery, she’s gathered more than 30 images by six contemporary photographers that capture the essence of the local drag scene.

What are you trying to accomplish with Fulfilled Fantasies?

I think drag is on the road to being accepted by the general public — obviously RuPaul’s Drag Race and other things are making it more widely known — but I wanted to keep pushing it into different arenas.

How will this exhibit differ from others about drag?

One of my struggles with fine arts is that it seems like you have to be a certain age or have done a certain amount of work to get opportunities. A show that is based on a bunch of artists who are working right now has an immediacy to it. Most of the photographs were done in the last three to five years. And you can go see all the subjects perform. Some of them will even perform in the gallery.

Do you think drag still struggles to be seen as fine art?

I do. Conversation surrounding drag and what’s possible with it is getting more sophisticated. But there’s also a dimmer understanding of drag, where it’s like, “Oh, it’s just a man in a wig.” There are a lot of contentious arguments about trans queens and cis women who are doing drag now, and that blurs the definition of what drag is.

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