Cecil Beaton’s early studio portraits of debutantes and celebrities helped define the image of the ‘Bright Young Thing’, with elaborate backdrops and dramatic costumery. But it was perhaps through his self-portraits that he most strikingly explored the power of dressing up to transform, liberate and play.
Marking the National Portrait Gallery’s major ‘Cecil Beaton's Bright Young Things’ exhibition of Beaton’s work, contemporary writers and drag performers Amrou Al-Kadhi and Tom Rasmussen were due to appear at the Gallery (in conversation with Shahidha Bari) for a public event, to consider dressing up, self-portraiture and autobiographical writing, and the shifting grounds for queer expression over the last 100 years.
In place of this event, Amrou and Tom have responded to the 'Cecil Beaton's Bright Young Things' catalogue, for a written discussion that spans their personal forays into drag, the intersection of queer identity and self-expression, and their admiration for Cecil Beaton and his photographic subjects.
Amrou Al-Kadhi is a writer for TV and film and in 2019 published their first book, UNICORN: The Memoir of a Muslim Drag Queen, which reflects on queer intersectionality. Tom Rasmussen performs as Crystal Rasmussen, and their 2019 memoir, Diary of a Drag Queen, is a unique portrayal of the queer experience, presenting a world of possibility through drag. Shahidha Bari, Professor of Fashion Cultures at the London College of Fashion, chairs their discussion. Her book, Dressed: The Secret Life of Clothes, was published in 2019.
National Portrait Gallery
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