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‘The Art of Drag’ campaign image: Ferdinand Erfmann, Dance bar (1928), Frans Hals Museum

The Art of Drag exhibition on show

Tuesday 30 April 2024

The Frans Hals Museum presents The Art of Drag, the first exhibition in the Netherlands on drag artists that takes an art history perspective. Drag is all around us: The TV programme RuPaul’s Drag Race and Eurovision Song Contest winner Conchita Wurst are two popular examples. Drag, however, is nothing new. Greek tragedies included men in drag and mocked stereotypical gender roles. In The Art of Drag, the Frans Hals Museum shows a selection of unique modern and contemporary works of art where artists express their love of drag in ways that have often met opposition.

Drag is art. Drag is for everyone. Drag is freedom!
Not a lot of people know that drag and cross-dressing have been popular subjects for visual artists for centuries. Around 1900, paintings of Hartjesdag (Day of Hearts), a traditional Haarlem festival, often captured men dressed as women and vice versa. Some artists, such as Ferdinand Erfmann (1901–1968), used to cross-dress or dress in drag. Others painted portraits of people who felt they could be themselves through this form of expression, for example, Kees van Dongen (1877–1968). The exhibition includes contemporary works by Sarah Lucas (born 1962), Gillian Wearing (born 1963, Turner Prize 1997) and Julius Thissen (born 1993) that break current expectations of masculinity and femininity. The Art of Drag is a celebration of being able to be yourself, of liberation and of exuberance!

Self-confidence and empowerment
Drag and ballroom represent the quest for freedom and ultimate self-expression, which are important in the development and visibility of LHBTQIA+ culture. Drag and ballroom culture might seem to be all about spectacle, glamour and extravagance. But the major aspect is protest – claiming a place for yourself. Queer activist and artist Yamuna Forzani (born 1993) participates in balls with Kiki House of Angels and House of Comme des Garçons: ‘Everyone with the courage to walk a ball inspires me. The scene is my number one influence – the drama, the campness, the extravagance, the opulence but, most importantly, the confidence and empowerment that people radiate.’ Caress, a 3D tapestry, is a self-portrait based on Shibari, the art of Japanese rope bondage. Constraining the body symbolises the quest for liberating queer bodies in connection with drag and ballroom. Yamuna Forzani’s Caress was purchased by the Frans Hals Museum last year and will be displayed for the first time at this exhibition.

Yamuna Forzani, ‘Caress’ (2022), tapestry, Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem.

Audio tour with personal stories
A free audio tour of The Art of Drag exhibition is available in English and Dutch. During the tour, Frans Hals Museum curators and members of the queer, drag and ballroom communities speak to visitors. Personal stories provide in-depth information and a first-hand perspective on the works of art.

The audio tour includes the voices of Ruud Douma (cabaret artist and lyricist, alter ego Dolly Bellefleur), Venus Bijleveld (aka Ma’Ma Queen, mother of the House of Holographic Hoes) and Perry Gits (performing artist, night culture programmer, choreographer and Dutch prince of the House of Ninja). ‘When I look at the art, I’m particularly glad that the work of drag artists is being exhibited at a museum, which is a different environment to where it’s usually shown. I’m glad we aren’t being viewed as entertainment but as an art form,’ says Venus Bijleveld about Tell me everything you saw, and what you think it means (2018) by Sin Wai Kin (born 1991).

Drag means something different to everyone, as visitors to The Art of Drag will discover. Drag is the freedom to make your own decisions on your clothes and appearance. To celebrate your own identity. Glamorous and extravagant. Or subdued and personal.

The Art of Drag book

The The Art of Drag exhibition is accompanied by a book in Dutch with the same title written by Manique Hendricks and Maaike Rikhof, Frans Hals Museum curators, and published by Waanders Uitgevers. The works of art included in the exhibition are presented as part of the broader international history of drag and cross-dressing in art, from Shakespeare’s plays to ballroom culture. There aren’t many art history books on this subject, and certainly not in the Netherlands. The Frans Hals Museum hopes this publication will be an incentive for further research. You can get your copy at the Frans Hals Museum and in bookshops in the Netherlands.

Visit The Art of Drag from 12 April – 13 October 2024 at the HAL location (Grote Markt 16) of the Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem. Find out more on the museum website The Art of Drag was partly funded by the VriendenLoterij, the Mondriaan Fonds and Fonds 21.


Groot Heiligland 62, Haarlem

Open Tuesday – Sunday
11 AM – 5 PM


Grote Markt 16, Haarlem

Temporary modern and contemporary art exhibition

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