September 16, 2020
Drag is bold, drag is confident. It is sexy, sassy, and overall bewitching. The oozing talents of dance, music, humour, and sheer nonchalance to anything normative is what empowers drag. But you know what a drag queen holds dearest? Makeup! A good look, that helps a queen feel like a queen.
So, we obviously brought Zeeshan Ali into the spotlight and asked him to unravel his journey of fashion, makeup, and drag.
Hi! My name is Zeeshan Ali.
I was born and raised in Mumbai. And I came to Bangalore, six years ago. I am also a model, a makeup artist, an entrepreneur who designs costumes and custom head-pieces. I am also a curator at Kitty Ko and Kitty Su.
Photo Courtesy: 13 Voyage Prachi Shukla and Shikar Shukla
6 years ago, I was studying Physiotherapy and going through a terrible time. I feel like I did not belong there. My friend who is a life coach asked me if we could sit down and have a conversation about it. On Halloween night, 2013, my friends and I decided to go to a Halloween party. So we created our own costumes and dressed up for what was an amazing night. I was Black Swan.
My friend and I had the due conversation.
During which, I told him about things that I enjoy and gushed about how much I enjoyed making costumes for the night. And he suggested that I could get into fashion, and even study fashion. That’s when it hit me that I just had to do it.
For almost a year, I didn’t tell my parents that I had switched to fashion. I wanted to tell them, but with the presentation of an amazing resume. So I began to work in everything and anything I could. I got into styling, back-stage management, modeling, specifically, androgynous modeling, and had an amazing time.
While I was researching costumes for fashion school, I landed on The Club Kids. This was a new discovery for me. I saw how huge and vast the drag culture is in US and UK. And it opened a new world for me. That’s when I learned about drag. Until then, it was just cos-play. Since I was into costumes, I started putting together these looks and posting it on Instagram. And from there (technically), the Drag Journey of Zeeshan Ali began.
Photo Courtesy: Arush Pandit
The Story of My First Gig
When I started clicking pictures of different looks that I was creating, and posting it on Instagram, it was just to show my skills and talents. This was right after college. For a few years, I modeled and also did a couple of documentaries with 101 India.
I began making custom head-pieces and costumes and did make up for shoots and shows. This created a boom in the business and I started gaining income through it. I kept on doing all of this for the longest of time. The idea of drag didn’t hit me until then.
Then, Kitty Su happened. Kitty Su is the most stunning space that brought queer people together in India, in so many ways. They began to have events where queer artists were invited to perform anything they wanted to. I received a call from them. They told me that they love my looks they saw on Instagram and asked if I would like to perform for them. I was a little nervous. I said yes, even though I wasn’t really sure what I would do on stage. But I knew I wanted to get into this some time or the other, and that is why I said yes. My performance was on Halloween night. It was now a full circle.
I went on stage and performed an amazing scary number! The audience went gaga! So for me, the journey of Drag has been about showing my different facets of me to the world. Drag is a medium to hone my skills and the crafts that I create.
Freedom through Drag and Makeup
Drag for me is a huge amalgamation of characters that I create through costume and makeup. There is a story in my head behind each look. And when people see it and interpret it in their own ways, another story is born. And I think that’s what I really enjoy about my drag. I like that it can tell a story.
Another feature of drag, that similar to any other art is building connections. Connecting through art is an incredible way for me to present my skills and talents. And retain myself and my integrity like I want it. Drag has always given me a space to be confident and it is a space of confidence. I let that seep into my daily life.
Drag has moulded my life and given me a new approach to it.
Think about it, you are born naked and the rest is Drag, right?
It’s not about makeup or costume. It is just the idea inside your head. This learning is helping me navigate through my life right now.
It has been so freeing to explore my creative sides through drag and experience it through drag. In a way, drag has always been an integral part of my life. I learnt makeup because of drag. My favourite part of makeup is when it is completely done. I observe the transformation of myself or the person I put the makeup on. It is such a great feeling!
Drag hooks you.
When you get on the stage and take the audience on a ride, show them an entire movie in 3 minutes! Share emotions, feelings, and communicate with them through music, movement, makeup, and costumes.
It feels absolutely brilliant. I am hooked. And I am going to be hooked for a really long time.
I have learned a few basic things that I would want any new entrant to Drag to know. One, ensure you are getting your money on time, and quote yourself properly. You should not be doing things for free, all the time. Value the effort you are putting in, and be paid accordingly.
Secondly, hone a few skills that you can manipulate on stage. You should be able to work it enough to put on a good show. This is especially for the new queens and kings or trans-performers. Remember this during your prep for the stage.
I love Makeup!
Makeup has always intrigued me, even when I was a child. And it still intrigues me. Makeup is such a huge market. It is not just to be glamorous. There are prosthetics, SFX, body paint, and so much more. I began learning about makeup 4 years ago, I discovered that I could transform into anyone I wanted to, and still be myself throughout the time. It has been an empowering space for me.
It is liberal and helps transcend social barriers. You can be black, white, blue, or yellow. That’s the power or illusion that makeup can give you. But you are yourself throughout the time and that’s the teaching makeup can give anyone.
You are an icon, you are an icon, everyone’s an icon
RuPaul is one of my favourite Drag Queens. I think she has powerfully transformed the way the world sees Drag. I am also highly inspired by The Club Kids James St.James, and Amanda Lepore. Just the idea they share of being who you want to be, and going out and have an amazing night blows my mind.
Even in India, we have such amazing drag queens and drag kings, and trans-performers, who have been doing a spectacular job. I believe that everyone is iconic. Whoever has the guts to put on a show while being themselves even while performing as someone else, is iconic in their own true right. I find them all inspiring. And this helps me be a better version of myself.
To inspire and be inspired by the smallest and the biggest of things is a tactic to learn and grow every day. Zeeshan Ali has certainly mastered the art and is headed for all things amazing.