Brenda Hernández Jaimes
There are Drag Queens, and then there’s Mexican Drag Queen, @YayoiBowery, who will sparkle your brain with a colorful explosion of a glossy shark and a divine Monarch butterfly. She stands out from the rest by being true to both of her namesakes: Yayoi Kusama and Leigh Bowery, and who is obsessed with anime by giving a mind-blowing taste for a whimsical and fantastical world. Through her Instagram account and Youtube channel she provides an insight to her wonderful creativity by uploading magnificent photos and informative videos. It all began when she was invited to the A Hell of a Party!, the annual Halloween party organized by @AnalMagazine in Mexico City. It was 2014 and Yayoi Kusama’s retrospective Infinite Obsession had turned the whole city upside down to the point that people were camping outside the Tamayo Museum. It was in that moment that Bowery jokingly said she would dress up as Yayoi Kusama.
“I love to wear costumes. Halloween and Día de Muertos are parties that I never miss. I love to disguise myself and it fascinates me. After I said I would dress up as Yayoi Kusama, I thought why not? The following year, I was super excited with that party because the people who go put in a lot work into their outfits, it’s so impressive! What I loved the most was that it is not a classic Halloween party that everyone has scary costumes, but it’s a lot of pop culture. The costumes refer to characters, artists and cartoons. The second time I went as Leigh Bowery and the third time as Divine. I saw people approaching me and taking photos with me. It was at that moment that I wanted to create a character that could be whatever I wanted.”
Yayoi Bowery is the perfect combination of fashion, art, and anime. She grew up watching Dragon Ball Z and going to the Mole Comic-Con. By combining these two important artists with her love of Dragon Ball Z, Takashi Murakami, Jeremy Scott, and Drag Queens such as Divine and Kim Chi, Yayoi Bowery was born.
“What drove this creativity was that when I was going to study I was between visual communication, industrial design, and fashion design. I was hesitating a lot and ended up studying visual communication because I really like design and partly because I never felt that my family was going to accept that I study fashion design,” she confesses. “So two years ago I started with Yayoi when a friend was moving to Spain and she was selling her things. Among her possessions was a sewing machine. So I said I would take it. That's where I started to sew, learn how to sew, and that's where I got everything. Because what I offer to Yayoi is this creative part through makeup and my outfits. And working as a Publicist, I think the obsession and fascination with brands and products were what Yayoi ended up being.”
It was alongside another friend that Yayoi began to experiment with makeup and find inspiration with Pantone’s Color of the Year and Valentine’s Day. She started doing more conceptual makeup and photograph herself.
“That's when I decided to open my Instagram account to start "documenting" how my progress was going. The first photo I have is the first time I did Drag makeup - that was disastrous,” Yayoi laughs, “But it was worth it because we all start so basic and the thing is to continue practicing and learning. It was through this Instagram account that little by little I went to experiment with makeup and create Yayoi. But the day I can say that Yayoi was born because it was the day I said, ‘I want Yayoi to be this way’ was January 6 during the Three Kings Day because I gave myself a grey wig. For me, Yayoi is an anime character that loves to use white outfits because I feel like I’m in limbo.”
Like many of her generation of Mexican Drag Queens, Yayoi shares RuPaul’s Drag Race as the spark that motivated her to do Drag. And like some of her counterparts, she also shares that before doing Drag she felt ignorant. Nevertheless, that changed when she started to do Drag. It opened her to a world of many possibilities of living as fully as possible.
“I remember once an ex showed me RuPaul’s Drag Race and got weirded out. I didn’t understand, but at the same time, it was because I think that many gays live with a certain amount of internalized homophobia. Before I didn’t wear tights or paint my nails. I would always say, why do I have to do that?” Right now I feel so free doing it and that's thanks to Drag. So that’s something that’s also very important and I’m grateful that we’re going to take this feminine part and we’ill accept it because we all have it and I think it’s good.”
“In the end it’s ignorance. I remember the first time I met a Drag Queen and it was @DeborahLaGrandeDrag and I perfectly remember my feelings were between fear of who is this? Why are they doing this? Now that I do Drag, I see that it’s cool being creative. Drag has led me to have the courage to get on a stage! And I always try to make the public have a good time. Even when I'm not on stage, we're going to laugh and we're going to have a good time,” she says.
Yayoi is true to her words and loves taking Drag to different spaces in Mexico City. She used to see Drag as a fun experiment that took her to parties and an opportunity to post photos about it. She didn’t have a clear vision of where she wanted to take Yayoi. This all changed after hearing about the Drag Queen Story Hour program, founded by fellow Queen @LoryStoryy, was being sued by ‘United Strong Families for Nuevo León’ for allegedly corrupting children. However, this inspired many Queens of Monterrey and the rest of the country to help extend the project.
“We live in a machista and very homophobic country. With Drag Queen Story Hour I realized that Drag can take you to many places and not just a club. I want Yayoi to contribute little by little. Last year I went to a foster home and that was fun! It was a super nice experience. I want to do more of these things, not only with children but also make an exhibition for Drag art. I want to invite Drags to create and share their art either a performance or a painting. I want to take Drag to many spaces because I think it’s so creative that we shouldn’t limit ourselves to lip sync at a bar, which is fine, but I think we can expand it because that’s what Drag gives me. It’s a creative explosion that I can take wherever I want it and that the Drags and the people who want to do it can be inspired to do it!”
Yayoi also shares that for her being a Drag Queen should be a balance of fun and responsibility. She’s adamant about people giving respect to the work that many Queens do before and during their show.
“I think it's a balance. Take it seriously, but there’s also the fun part. If you do Drag for fun then that’s very valid, but if it turns into a job and you only do it for fun then you’re damaging the work of other Drags. Then there’s this big responsibility of meeting schedules and demanding a fair wage. We’re very used to being paid with three beers and they expect us to work for 200 pesos and you’re up there all night and don’t even have money for an Uber. Also, there needs to be respected before and during the show, your transportation, your Drag show and the props you use. And many times you even end up paying to be there,” Yayoi continues. “I feel that there’s a responsibility, but beyond that, I think that what I like to show is this diversity that we have. That Drags aren’t only for thin or young people. No matter how old you are, you can live your dream. I studied and have a career and work in advertising. At the age of 28 I started doing Drag and I found something, I don’t know if it’s a vocation, but it’s something that fills me up a lot. No matter how old you are, always encourage yourself to get rid of that itch and do what you have always wanted to do. Because maybe it doesn’t work, but you at least tried, but maybe it does work! And it gives you a new perspective on life and that’s incredible. If you die tomorrow...you didn’t do it! I really want to go out of this world and say to that cool I did what I wanted!”
She also talks about the economic barrier that Mexican Drag Queens suffer and that people shouldn’t compare them to American Queens.
“Many people say that Mexican Drag compared to RuPaul’s Drag Race isn’t polished. I always say that Drag is an expression that comes from popular culture. So we can’t ask the Mexican Drags to be like the ones in the United States because, in the end, it’s a very different culture. And because in the end American Drags are better paid than the ones here in Mexico. All these socioeconomic factors arise where we have to be creative. That's why in Mexico we’re very good at bewitching and that’s the tea! That's why I love the word bewitch because with what we have we try to solve it in the best way!”
Yayoi also shares that when she went to DragCon in New York and then to Los Angeles, she couldn’t help but notice the obvious difference between the two.
“I dare to say that Mexican Drag is more like New York. It’s more experimental and that gives me great pleasure. We might look basic, but we’re giving our fight. And projects like La Más Draga are providing a professional look of Mexican Drag to an international audience and leaving a good impression. And people are seeing it! People from California, when [my mother], @MargaretYYa went there and I was surprised how many people know her in Los Angeles! It’s cool that there’s a vision towards Mexican Drag and that it’s very unique.” she says and shares her advice for people interested in doing Drag.
“I wish you first of all to have fun. Because a lot of people say that Drag is not art and from a certain point I agree, but for me, art doesn’t have to be in a museum. For me, it’s the expression of your creativity. In the end, creativity is all your feelings that you have and you express them in a way. And it doesn’t matter if it's a painting, a poem, it doesn’t matter if it's a dress or Drag makeup. Just do it! Because you set yourself free! It’s as if you were an Instant Pot and you’re releasing this heat from inside you in a creative way,” she says.
As for the future, Yayoi is currently shining in ads for Urban Decay and Reebok Mexico. She’s been working to reach these different spaces and she’s not stopping anytime soon. Along with her exhibit and Drag Queen Story Hour, Yayoi would love to give creative workshops to help lessen the exploitation of fellow artists and Queens to continue being #ExtrañasPeroMuyInteresante !