Arts & Entertainment
2 min

If Harper was a harlot

Exhibit imagines the feminine side of conservative politicians

Mitt Romney close-up.

Imagine Stephen Harper as a showgirl in a feather tail, bodysuit and fishnets.

This is one of 10 new full-body portraits of high-profile conservative politicians in drag created by artist and Xtra contributor Julie Cruikshank.

Her Political Femme collection centres on the backward nature of conservative negativity about fluid gender and diverse sexuality, Cruikshank says.

Drag bends the rigidity of gender that’s characteristic of conservative circles, she says.

“If Mitt Romney got up tomorrow and decided to wear a dress it would utterly change the way he is perceived,” she says.

“Something that simple — you throw on some lipstick and a pair of heels,” she says. “The point I’m really trying to make is if it’s that simple to alter the way your gender is perceived, why are we making such a fuss about it? Why is there such a hatred of women and a negativity in conservative politics right now if it’s something that’s that simple to change and that simple to embrace?”

Cruikshank has created corresponding face portraits for each full-body painting to clearly illustrate her concept without humour.

“I didn’t want it to come off as ‘Ha ha, look at the men in the dresses.’ That’s not what drag is about,” she says.

The concept is more bare bones in the smaller face portraits, which show men wearing very obvious smears of red lipstick and brightly coloured eye shadow.

In addition to Harper, featured politicians include Mitt Romney; Todd Akin, the Republican senate nominee from Missouri; and Rob Ford, mayor of Toronto.

Cruikshank says she chose Romney for his poor track record on women’s health issues and his anti-gay-marriage stance, Akin for his comments about legitimate rape, and Ford for his lack of support of Toronto Pride festivities.

“Rob Ford likes to go to his cottage so he doesn’t have to raise the flag,” she says.

All of the featured politicians will have corresponding drag names to match their portraits. Ford is Graivee Trayne and Romney is Mittens, she says.

Although the politicians are dressed up, Cruikshank says she took care not to feminize them too much.

“Some of them have breasts, but I tried to keep the figures fairly masculine — not too hourglass-like,” she says. “I’m not changing them into women; I’m putting them in drag. It’s two different things.”

Cruickshank says she worried that feminizing the politicians with wigs and breasts would prevent viewers from recognizing them.

The collection is a departure from her past work, which, aside from being mostly multimedia and collage, has never been overtly political. “I went from work that’s more about the body to work that’s more about women’s rights and gay rights,” she says.

The medium, acrylic on board, is also new for Cruikshank. “I wanted the figures to pop and look cartoonish. Acrylic is a very flat medium. The bold medium worked well for that.”