When Black Peppa dropped her stunning visual series, ‘Virtual Doll – The Future of Drag’, a collaborative project with graphic artist Jordan Windows, you could feel Instagram’s drag community collectively gasp.
Using a mix of photography, 3D rendering, and CGI, Jordan (@jordanwindows) transformed the Caribbean-born drag artist into a perfectly molded digital creation. In this collection of images, she presents an imagined future - a new normal - where the worlds of reality and cyberspace have become intertwined. At the center of it all is Black Pepper, wrapped in polished PVC, poised like a cobra, with a marbled gaze that seems to say, “I know something you don’t.”
“It is, in a sense, my version of what the future of drag is supposed to be,” says Black Peppa, “however, everyone’s version of the future of drag is very different. I believe that the future of drag is beyond comprehension, you know. It’s something that even if we think we know what it is, we will never know until the time comes.”
Conceptualised during a spout of lockdown “boredom”, in a long string of voice notes, Peppa’s virtual doll series reflects upon the increased digitisation of our livelihoods as a result of the pandemic. “We can only make an assumption of the future that’s based on the direction the world is going and the way it is in the present,” says Peppa.
Reality and the digital world collide in this graphic series made using photography, 3D rendering and CGI. Images courtesy: Black Peppa, (@iamblackpepper) and Jordan Windows, (@jordanwindows.)
“Imagine if we never get to be in contact with humans anymore. We’re gonna have to figure out a way for our art form to be shown online, whatever way that’s possible. Having a digital model made, wearing clothes that are digitalised on my body, was my solution to the problem because I can’t physically do it.”
From recycled chicken wire to damaged household goods, nothing is off-limits.
Ironically for an artist seemingly infatuated with the digital age, Peppa hasn’t the time to satisfy arbitrary social algorithms. Her insta is barely two years old, features less than a hundred posts, yet has amassed an impressive following of over 11,000. Her concepts take time to develop and she’s in no rush.
Taking inspiration from designers such as Alexander McQueen and Iris Van Herpen, Black Peppa often spends hours, sometimes days, making garments from a mix of conventional and repurposed materials. From recycled chicken wire to damaged household goods, nothing is off-limits; culminating in a futuristic style, where fetish punk glamour meets high fashion.
“I’m a very conceptual artist, not just as a drag queen but as a photographer, as a model and I wanted to show that side in drag as well,” says Peppa.
A vision in polished PVC. Images: Black Peppa and Jordan Windows.
“Visually, everything needs to be beautiful. I believe in expressing your art in the best way possible, especially on social media where you have a platform and you’re able to show the world what you can do and what you think of.
“A lot of times I see drag being done and it’s always the same thing; you take photos in your bedroom with the studio lighting or a ring light and it’s posted on social media and that’s it. I like to think outside the box in the ways I want to express my drag.”
But you’d be very wrong to discount her as just another Instagram queen. This drag race hopeful also has two big competition wins under her belt and is the reigning England EuroDrag winner.
"I had known about drag race since my teenage years but had to watch it discreetly on my laptop, in the dark, in my bedroom while my parents were asleep."
“Obviously with drag you have many different styles - you have comedy queens, you have dancing divas,” she says, identifying themselves as the latter, “I absolutely love dancing because I’m a performer at heart.”
Born in St Maarten in the Caribbean, Akeem Adams came to the UK in 2017 to study Biomedical Science in Coventry. “I had known about drag race since my teenage years but had to watch it discreetly on my laptop, in the dark, in my bedroom while my parents were asleep.
“When I migrated to the UK for university and became more confident in my sexuality, I then realised that drag is actually amazing.” Akeem’s first contact with the world of drag was when they dressed up as Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman for Halloween – echoes of which can be seen in Virtual Doll.
Images: Black Peppa and Jordan Windows.
“In 2019, I was then offered the chance to perform by Yshee Black. I decided to give it a go and the feedback was amazing. Since then I’ve been performing in bars and clubs and competed in drag competitions. Everything happened really quickly and before I knew it I had so many people looking forward to seeing me perform.”
When the country was plunged into lockdown this time last year, club toilet mirror selfies disappeared from Peppa’s feed. “I had so much time to create different things, make different garments, sew stuff together. It’s been a lot of fun being able to collaborate with other artists during lockdown and just create some amazing art.”
This pandemic may have put halted Peppa’s passion for performing, but it has only increased her drag ambitions for when restrictions are lifted. "I want to share my light, bring smiles to peoples’ faces and inspire others to live their truth,” says Peppa, “I want to show that drag is not just dressing up. It’s life-changing.”
Simply stunning. Images: Black Peppa and Jordan Windows.