Miami's premier drag festival, Wigwood, took place this weekend, with the aim to transport visitors to another world.
In many ways, Wigwood highlights a queer renaissance taking place within South Florida, where multiple venues, regularly scheduled parties and events, and advocacy groups are flourishing. Begun by Miami-based drag queen and artist Queef Latina, Wigwood just wrapped its second iteration with much larger ambitions. Drawing from its theme of "aliens on vacation," the festival included drag performances by renown and local performers, along with a fashion show, a panel on queer identity, a platform for local vendors, and a closing pool party.
The growth and expansion of Wigwood into a multifaceted venue of queer brilliance parallels both Miami's growing influence in the arts and its emerging drag scene.
A few years ago Miami's drag scene was more modest. While venues like Twist and Palace in South Beach continued to thrive thanks to tourism and local support, much of the nightlife had moved to neighboring Fort Lauderdale. Meanwhile neighborhoods like Wynwood began to experience a notable transformation, as developers sought artists to transform neighborhoods, for better and worse. Queer art is experiencing a transformation itself.
At the edge of the continental U.S., Miami is becoming a mecca for the weird and the unusual. Wigwood is playing off this energy. In a city defined by migration and tourism, the theme of alien invasion meets hedonistic tropical vacation is itself tongue-in-cheek. The three-day event was more than a festival, rather a "queer cultural revolution."
The inaugural Wigwood festival, organized by Queef Latina and Hairy Bradshaw, took place on February 4, 2017. The full day event was held at Gramps in the Wynwood Arts District and included panel discussions, live music sets, film screenings, a charity auction led by Alotta McGriddel and RuPaul's Drag Race All Star Thorgy Thor, and a lineup of over 30 drag performers.
Queef Latina, whose given name is Antonio Mendez, says, "Wigwood grew out of the momentum that was happening in Miami ... [and] a need to do something bigger and greater than a party." Queef recalled living in Brooklyn when the Bushwig festival began in 2012. Much like the case of Brooklyn, the development of Wigwood responded to an expanding and edgy drag scene.
The first Wigwood proved especially successful. Queef Latina elaborates, "[It] says a lot about a community like Miami, where the gay scene was always about South Beach, the circuit parties, and Pride. ... [The] death of the mega-clubs allowed for queer parties to flourish, with more interest in local spots that are welcoming and more open minded." Regular parties such as Counter Corner (every third Sunday at 1306 Miami), Double Stubble (every Thursday at Gramps) and Gender Blender (last Sunday of every month at Las Rosas) became celebrated venues for queer art and expression. Wigwood provides a concentrated space that highlights the variety of drag artistry throughout the South Florida area.
This year Wigwood stretched across three days at the Scottish Rite Temple. Located just west of Downtown along the Miami River, the majestic, architecturally elaborate venue provides a fantastic setting for an otherworldly event. Built to house all of Miami's Masonic organizations, the 1920s building combines elements of Art Deco and neoclassical architecture, and was transformed into a "resort from another planet." Guests "checked in" as if arriving to a hotel, but instead wound up inside a weird tropical planet.
It kicked off with a fashion show, with prominent local and international drag queens performing within the temple Thorgy Thor headlined, along Dragula runner-up Victoria Elizabeth Black. Included in the line-up was Evah Destruction, Imp Queen, Sateen, Ickarus, KUNST, Horrorchata, and others. Bands, DJs and local vendors kept the party hopping all night at the temple.
The following day the festival moved to Gramps, its original location. The theme was tropical, and local queens hosted a panel discussion titled "Queer Identities 101." The panel included local artists and residents discussing their personal experiences and thoughts regarding gender and sexual identity, moderated by Miami-based film critic Juan Barquin. Following the panel was evening and night drag, with over 50 performers presenting onstage.
The event closed with a pool party at the Broken Shaker in Miami Beach, providing a chance to lounge and reflect on alien tan lines after two evenings of performances. Wigwood promised to take its audience to another planet, and it delivered -- providing a migration across galaxies and into the future of drag.
FREDO RIVERA is assistant professor of art history at Grinnell College and a part-time Miami resident. His research explores connections between the arts and the global city, and he can often be seen in Miami as his drag persona, Lolita Cabron.