The origins of drag might surprise a few who may be under the impression that this artform is only a few decades old. Dating back as far as the days of antic theatre, men dressed as women was common practice. Men took on female roles; therefore, they’d be dressed in gowns and wear makeup. Now, there are contrary beliefs when it comes to the exact origin of the term itself. Some believe it came from the male actors who’d complain that their costumes often “dragged” on stage. Yet, according to Differentlevel.com’s findings, the term is much more recent, stating, “the term developed as a short form of “grand rag,” an expression synonymous with the masquerade.” The possibilities of more colourful origin stories are endless.
Self-expression, in its many shapes and forms, allows us to present our true selves to the world the best way we see fit. What’s often misunderstood means so much more than the narrowness of society’s “rules.” Drag has grown in popularity because of its dazzling, bright, and high-octane nature. There’s so much of the drag pie to go around for artists themselves and spectators, so much so that it just gets bigger and bigger.
One custodian of drag who deserves their shine is Lola Pyramid. This Durban native is a creative’s creative, often flexing their chops in front and behind the camera.
Lola Pyramid is a fierce manifestation of art, fashion, beauty, and fearlessness. She is a talent that deserves to be marvelled at by all for her exquisite eye for detail. She’s a siren, a woman about her wits with an innate ability to captivate audiences. So I had to find out more about this blonde bombshell that executes some of the most polished and well-thought-out looks in South African fashion lately. We chatted about her drag beginnings, her hopes for the community, and many more in between.
When did you fall in love with drag?
Lola: I gradually started falling in love with drag around 2015. However, I never thought it would be something that would stick and be a part of me until receiving positive feedback from people that I would slowly share my art with.
What attracted you to drag?
Lola: What initially attracted me to the art form that is drag was the ability to transform/shapeshift also using my body as a canvas and vessel to do so. The fashion element to it was also a great motivating factor and is almost everything that I am today.
When did you discover Lola Pyramid?
Lola: I discovered Lola a very long time ago before she was even conceptualised in my mind. She’s been an amalgamation of all the powerful women that have etched an imprint in my mind from supermodels to femme fatales and glamorous Hollywood starlets as well as women that have featured in my life.
How would you describe Lola’s style and also, who or what are her influences?
Lola: My style is always going to be polished, aspirational, and very conceptual. It always harkens back to a good reference that isn’t just copy and paste formulae but always re-imagined and elevated. The people that have played a pivotal role in my artform are icons such as Naomi Campbell, Charlize Theron, Tyra Banks, Sharon Stone and Versace to name a few.
What are some misconceptions people have about drag?
Lola: A common misconception people have about drag is that we live our lives as our drag personas, and there is often confusion with drag the artform and being trans which inherently is vastly different. I think people need to know that drag is an artform and is something that we as drag artists do, whereas identifying as a transgender being is who you are and what you identify as.
What are some of the challenges you face?
Lola: Being an artist of my type as well being under the umbrella of the LGBTQIA+ community has its many challenges homophobia and racism are the most rampant battles in my journey.
It’s very demotivating to know you are potentially the best in the artform that you do to find that a person (usually a white person) is being glorified/awarded opportunities for putting in half the effort or no effort at all. I just think brands that are being “progressive” and celebrating inclusion need to do better and really look into the meaning of inclusion with a fine-tuned eye
Fortunately, the winds of change are starting give a different narrative on queer identities and our presence. I also believe having aspirational public figures that are celebrated for all that they are makes these battles easier for the next generations to come.
You put so much effort into your looks, how long does it usually take you to conceptualise everything from hair to make-up to garments?
Lola: The conceptualisation of a concept is probably the most important part of my work. Fortunately, for me, I’m very sure of myself and have an incredible team of creative individuals that are not just ‘yes’ people. People that actually stretch my ideas and tell me ‘No, this isn’t going to work’ when I need to hear it, which has contributed to the immense growth in my craft over the years. It could take months to fully conceptualise something I also only have myself to compete with so outdoing myself is my biggest task.
You’re also a super talented photographer, how do you juggle being in front of the camera and being behind it and how important is it to you to incorporate both of these talents?
Lola: I think being a photographer has allowed me to get stronger as an artist as most of my work revolves around beauty and visuals. It’s been quite an advantage for me whether I’m performing on stage, being on set for a show or a photo shoot. I’m able to incorporate all those aspects into my craft. It’s also given me an advantage to be able to know what I want and don’t want. I’m at a point where I can arrive on set and know all that’s going on which in turn makes me very hands-on with all my projects.
Do you think the drag community in SA has the potential to grow into a community that produces world-class talent and according to you, what can be done to garner more support?
Lola: The drag community in SA has great potential and with that I can see the community growing to do beautiful things, I do believe that like with every artform it will have its politics and challenges. However, we as a community, especially being a niche minority group as well as mainstream media, need to do the work. The inclusion of drag artists and members of the LGBTQIA+ community should not only be celebrated in June because it seems trendy and progressive. Our art is all year round and should be celebrated like any other artform, not just in a specific month. This interview alone is a part of that change I’ve been needing to see because when our community has aspirational figures in the forefront of it changes people’s perception of what the craft is all about.
What are some of the goals you have for Lola in the future?
Lola: The goals I have for Lola are to see more visibility in the fashion industry, to have drag not just be dedicated to bars and nightlife because drag is so very versatile. I’d like to shift the gears and pioneer that narrative as it is one I haven’t seen successfully executed. I’d love to see opportunities be more accessible and that artists of colour be celebrated more often in the beauty industry. To keep growing and have my work seen by the right eyes.