Senior Expresses Art Through Makeup

Sarah Long, Southworld Editor

Spending between one to two hours completing each look, senior Caitlin Mathews expresses her creativity through the art of drag. She named her drag persona Nalla, meaning successful in Swahili, and shows her signature style through pearl-lined brows, blue glitter tears, and large black winged eyeliner.

“The biggest misconception is probably that only men can do drag.  It’s like being a normal artist, it doesn’t matter what gender you are or how you identify. It’s just art,” Mathews said.

First taking an interest in drag after watching RuPaul’s Drag Race, Mathews started to experiment with more camp looks by taking traditional drag approaches to makeup, like gluing down her eyebrows and blending eyeshadow up to her forehead. She then started to add themes to her art, doing skeleton themed looks during October and butterfly looks in the Spring.

“I have  the advantage of being too young to perform, because while I’m starting out I’m able to perfect, practice, and plan things more than a 20 year old, for say. Some queens look back at their first moments of drag and get embarrassed, but with my time and connections to experienced queens, I’m able to work on my craft before I try to make a career out of it,” Mathews said. “Hopefully my first performance will boost people’s expectations, because at the moment I’m a little worried I’ll always be seen as a fan of drag and not a real performer because so many locals know me as a supporter rather than a performer. So when I start taking things into serious actions, I was to have a clean, put-together look and a planned number that will do well in a crowded setting.”

Teen queens, or teenage drag queens like Mathews, often compete in Instagram drag competitions. Other teen queens host competitions named after themselves where they judge the group of competing queens. Mathews compares the events to high school, consisting of drama and biased judges. However, teen queens participate regardless of this bias due to the practice it provides them. Each week, the queens participate in a challenge, consisting of a makeup look and outfit following the set theme. Posting the looks on Instagram, the judges then go to the queens’ accounts to rate the looks. The two competitors with the lowest scores then compete in a lip-sync battle, and the weakest performer becomes eliminated.

“Each week there is also a winner, and some races who have more money or sponsors are even able to give a prize each week such, as an eyeshadow pallet. The overall winners usually get a prize package with a wig, gift cards, or random stuff related to drag. Some races however end up flopping and the hosts may drop everyone or just straight up say the race is cancelled. Personally, I have never taken them seriously. I just used it to make sure I did looks each week to better myself. However, now that I’m almost able to perform, I’ve stopped doing online competitions so I can focus on finding my own style and getting more involved in the local drag scene, rather than just teen queens,” Mathews said.

Growing up in the conservative-leaning town of Fort Smith, Mathews used drag as an outlet to accept her sexuality as a gay woman. Mathews kept her drag account a secret for the first few months of starting drag and used the account to find other LGBTQ+ drag queens who gave her the confidence to become more open. Even with the community’s anti-drag policies, such as Arkansas’s state senate member Jason Rapert who tried to shut down events such as drag queen story time, Mathews still pushes for drag to become more mainstream.

“People who don’t know the art think it’s like stripping or other night life careers. While it is based around clubs, it’s not because it’s inherently sexual, it’s because there was nowhere else for queens to go when the art began to take off. It’s not seen as acceptable to many because it is surrounded by the LGBTQ+ community. Even to this day, in smaller conservative states such as Arkansas, clubs are the only place we have. In bigger cities such as Los Angeles or New York City, it’s easier to be accepted by the other residents of that place. However, in Arkansas it can be dangerous even walking out to your car in drag, because homophobia is still a major issue and people still take violent matters,” Mathews said.

Taking inspiration from traditional sources, Mathews often looks at abstract art pieces from the 1960s and 70s and incorporates aspects of them. A variety of fake lashes and rainbow eyeshadow palettes spill across her desk, a disarray of color and makeup brushes. Mixed-in with the traditional makeup, gemstones and pearls help add textures to her appearance. Her looks often feature high stick-thin eyebrows and artistically placed black dots to add a geometric facet to her face.  Mathews posts these looks on her drag Instagram, @thenallaqueen.

 “I first remember at first she [Mathews] would just block out her eyebrows and draw them on with crazy shapes and colors, and she would then do regular beauty makeup or maybe a dramatic eye. She was practicing getting her brows to be as smooth as the queens we would see on RuPaul’s Drag Race. She would occasionally sneak past my family to go outside and have her own little photoshoot. I remember one day I saw her outside trying to get the camera just right using the timer setting, and when she came in, I told her that I would love to take photos of her so she wouldn’t have to deal with all the camera work,” sister Ashleigh Mathews said.

First experiencing live drag on a modeling job in Los Angeles, Caitlin Mathews recalls visiting drag venue and restaurant Hamburger Mary’s as one of her happiest memories. Having to leave the show early, Mathews later followed all the performers on Instagram that night. She messaged queen Diana Dzhaketov, who later became one of her biggest inspirations.

“She [Dzahaketov] has really brought to light that the community should be about love and all styles of drag are valid and important. She truly cares for all her supporters and is passionate about what she does. Another major inspiration is Miami Rose, who is a local queen and a friend of mine. She has helped me so much along the way and has opened herself up to any random questions or tips I need to better my drag. She’s like a mentor to me and has made me feel more confident in times I’ve doubted myself. Most people would say their idols are Ru Paul or drag race girls, but local queens put in so much work and deserve so much more respect and validation than what they get now. I’m looking forward to finally get out into the scene with Miami and all the amazing talents in Arkansas,” Mathews said.

With the only drag venue in Fort Smith being Kinkeads Alternative Bar, which requires performers to be over 21, Mathews plans to pursue drag in Jonesboro, Arkansas. With 18+ venues such as Cregeen’s Irish Pub, the new opportunities give Mathews the option to attend Arkansas State while still performing. Mathews plans to major in theatre, with an emphasis in costume design, allowing her to use aspects of drag in her everyday life.

“I’m most worried about what kind of artist I’ll be and what venues will book me for my type of art. Many people expect a highly femme dance number to the most popular song at the time, but I want to use my drag as a political protest too, which is what the basis of drag really is. I want to do numbers that tell stories, and maybe occasionally do some choreographed numbers just to chance things up. I don’t want to be under the same category as everyone else, but some clubs would be more off putting towards that. It’s just trying to find what club works for me and which ones don’t,” Mathews said.

Based on her experience of using drag to gain confidence, Mathews plans to use her new platform to promote LGBTQ+ acceptance in Fort Smith, Arkansas, before she leaves for Jonesboro. Although it ultimately fell through due to lack of a venue, Mathews spent the summer arranging an all-ages drag show to fundraise for Planned Parenthood amid Alabama’s new abortion bans. Mathews also serves as communicator for Southside’s Gay-Straight Alliance, where she uses her connections in the drag community to arrange speakers for the club. Because of her unorthodox self-expression and involvement in the local LGBTQ+ community, she receives many Instagram messages from fellow students explaining how much confidence she gave them in their sexuality and style.

“I still haven’t done huge, remarkable things, but I want to be able to eventually say that I am an activist for the queer community. I will always stand up for myself and my community. Now that I’m out and able to be proud, I want to help our community be seen more and represented properly, especially in the local community,” Mathews said.