Majestic vision Winnipeg artist's portrait-like photos of drag performers puts members of queer community in regal spotlight

‘Gender is boring.”

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/08/2019 (1328 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

‘Gender is boring.”

While this could be a flippant comment coming from someone else, when Callie Lugosi says it, it resonates as a profound statement. Lugosi, 26, is non-binary, outside the exclusive definitions of male and female.

Gender is an important topic in the arts world these days, and artists and audiences alike are tasked with navigating an evolving, fluid concept of a subject that was once considered to be black and white.

But don’t mistake this lens-based artist’s boredom for apathy. Lugosi is passionate about the community and about non-binary representation within the arts.

“I’ve observed us being tokenized by mainstream media and artists,” Lugosi said. “Queer autonomy, being both behind the camera and in front of it, is important to me.”

Lugosi has had a busy summer. In addition to working as a set designer for a production at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival, there was work simultaneously mounting Lugosi’s exhibit, Majesties, which debuted at aceart inc.’s Flux Gallery on July 12 and ran through the 26th.

And although the exhibit has ended, Lugosi seems to be just getting started.

There are talks about putting a book of photographs together and Lugosi has not ruled out a second run.

“I’d love to remount the show,” Lugosi said. “I need more space and dollars.”

Lugosi grew up in Winnipeg’s North End and, after a short stint in New Zealand, has been based here ever since. Though brief, Lugosi’s time abroad proved to be a formative experience.

“I went to an alternative high school in New Zealand,” where students were encouraged to pursue the arts, said Lugosi, who took photography, philosophy, fashion design, film and television classes.

“I felt like I’d already done art school,” Lugosi said, adding the desire to pursue a bachelor of fine arts degree had faded.

In 2015 Lugosi started studying at the New York Institute of Photography, earning a diploma in photojournalism, but an interest in photography began much earlier, at age 10, and was galvanized by a subsequent trip to Japan with a parent.

Winnipeggers may know Lugosi best from The Uniter, the student newspaper of the University of Winnipeg, overt the past four years.

“I have some incredible mentors at that paper,” Lugosi said.

Majesties marked Lugosi’s debut exhibition.

“I took a portrait of drag queen Prairie Sky in autumn of 2018, and everyone that saw it told me it looked like a painting, so that’s where the painterly quality of the series came from. I rolled with that and came up with the idea of reimagining Golden Age paintings with drag artists as the subjects,” Lugosi said.

As artistic standards evolve and adapt, so to do the creative processes of many artists. Lugosi demonstrates this through an extremely collaborative method of working with subjects.

Instead of auditions or a more formal selection process, Lugosi put out an open call for interested participants.

“Drag performers came out in droves,” Lugosi said. “It was really cool.”

For Lugosi, the open-call format was vital. “It’s not up to me to choose who should be in the series. Whoever was interested and able was welcome to be a part of it. I’m not about gatekeeping.

“I gave people the concept and told them that they had to tell me what they wanted to do with it. When a subject came to me with an idea for their portrait, I gathered what we needed, built a set, put them in it and pressed the shutter.”

“My hope was to give them the opportunity to immortalize themselves as the royals they are, like real royal and political figures have been. I’m a court painter and they are the many majesties.”

“My hope was to give them the opportunity to immortalize themselves as the royals they are, like real royal and political figures have been.” – Artist Callie Lugosi

The photographs display a unique, vivid perspective and are created using a highly personalized process.

“I hand-develop everything I shoot, which might speak to some of the quality of my work, but the rest is studio magic.”

Lugosi also pursues other media beyond photography. “I love sewing/textiles, drawing, painting, theatre, video…. I just happen to be best at taking photos.”

Though Majesties has no upcoming showings, Lugosi is keeping busy securing funding to publish a book of photographs.

Whether that happens tomorrow or in a few years, Lugosi has proven to be one of Winnipeg’s most dynamic young visual artists, and someone to keep an eye on.

Twitter: @franceskoncan

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Frances Koncan

Frances Koncan
Arts reporter

Frances Koncan (she/her) is a writer, theatre director, and failed musician of mixed Anishinaabe and Slovene descent. Originally from Couchiching First Nation, she is now based in Treaty 1 Territory right here in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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