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Contemporary Art

Contemporary Artist Victoria Sin and The Performance of Femininity

By Sotheby's
Work by contemporary artist Victoria Sin will feature in an exhibition at S|2 London until 25 January 2019. Read on to discover how Sin's work has evolved and the intention within their performances.

V ictoria Sin was born in 1991 in Toronto, Canada. Sin uses speculative fiction within film, performance, writing and print to explore ways of subverting normative thinking about gender, representation and looking. Sin has chosen drag to perform and exaggerate societal attitudes towards gender binaries and identity construction, and to highlight existing power structures which divide society along race and gender-based lines.

In 2017 Sin produced Narrative Reflections on Looking (2017), a four-part multimedia exploration of the racial and gendered dynamics of public ritual, performance and the act of seeing. The third work in this series, Part Three: Cthulhu Through the Looking Glass, subsequently won the Ingram Collection’s Young Contemporary Talent Award in 2017. The series will be on display at S2 Gallery during the exhibition.

Sin now lives and works in London, where their artistic practice ranges broadly. While Sin had always been interested in drag, it was only after encountering female drag queens like Holestar and Amanda Lepore that Sin was inspired to embrace drag as a means of challenging gender expectations and oppression, rather than ‘something you take on and take off,’ as in the case of many male drag performers.

Drag is a way for me to queer the performance of femininity, to be able to embody it and think through it without performing it to serve but rather to challenge the patriarchal gaze.
Victoria Sin

They began performing at club nights in 2013, before choosing to focus on drag as an artistic medium. Their film and print work has been shown in over fifty exhibitions and performances internationally, and their drag-as-politics critical strategy has been compared to postmodernists such as Cindy Sherman and Robert Mapplethorpe. In addition to their artistic work, Sin has also curated and coordinated exhibitions, lectures and arts symposiums from Tate Modern to Somerset House.

Sin’s work is particularly poignant in its blend of celebratory and acerbic tones. The character Sin presents is an exaggeratedly sexualised parody of the screen siren, seemingly camp yet eerily realistic in its evocation of icons of Western femininity like Marilyn Monroe, Kim Kardashian or Rita Hayworth. Their delicately painted face wipes call the punishing labours of femininity into being.

On film, Sin’s uncomfortable poses, bondage-like lingerie and sultry voiceovers toe the line of the absurd, yet their absurdity reminds the viewer that art imitates life. In one comedic sketch Sin slowly makes a buttered sandwich before handing it to a male audience member with a dry look, in an ironic subversion of the phrase ‘make me a sandwich.’ The strength of their criticism emerges from the viewer’s instant recognition of these disturbingly ingrained expectations of men and women, and the dawning realisation that the mask of drag is no exaggeration at all.

The film director Amrou al-Kadhi, who has created a short documentary on Sin, writes: “Victoria Sin is my hero... When Victoria is in drag, their aim is to unapologetically take up the space around them. Their politics is to show that the daily labours of femininity expected of female bodies are invisible – they make this unmistakably visible by being in drag.”

This year Victoria Sin has been included in several major exhibitions in London, including Riding and Dying With You at the Whitechapel Gallery; Bona Drag at the RISD Museum, Providence; DRAG: Self-portrait and Body Politics at The Hayward Gallery and Park Nights at Serpentine Galleries.

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