This seems to be the case for many drag performers in Indonesia, a number of whom perform sets that incorporate both American pop cultural references and local traditions like dangdut, a type of traditional Indonesian folk music.
Photographer Estelle Hanania walked into a show at Cabaret Raminten in Yogyakarta, where she saw a crowd ranging from tourists to hijab-wearing locals cheering for the drag performers onstage. The scene prompted her to return to the city to document three performers who had left the biggest impression on her.
Watching drag queens Suzzaravina, Jiha Sunrise and Riri Stephanie, it’s not hard to guess where they got their influences from. Each of them personifies an American pop star, with the queens taking on the roles of Céline Dion, Ariana Grande and Rihanna, respectively, while Stephanie combines her act with traditional routines. The queens believe that, thanks to its vibrant cultural scene, Yogyakarta is a good place for drag. Raminten itself is less of a gay club and more of a performance space for people of all sexual orientations, even though it doesn’t exactly occupy a first-class seat: the venue sits on the top floor of a shopping mall, above a supermarket and some fabrics and accessories vendors.
According to Hanania, not all the queens have told their families about their drag or about being gay. The attitude toward drag in some parts of Indonesian society might have contributed to that: conservative Islamic groups have led a recent crackdown on LGBT rights, while last year, the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission reportedly banned men on TV to express femininity in dress, makeup, gestures and body language. Still, like many on the Muslim-majority island of Java, the queens live as observant Muslims and refrain from consuming alcohol. They all lead different lives in the daytime, with some pursuing education and others dancing professionally.
Hanania captured the queens in both their day and night lives—partially because she is most interested in the moment of transformation. “The backstage is always something that I’m into, especially when they’re wearing their makeup but have not yet put on their clothes or wigs,” she said. “That’s when they’re still in between genders.” It becomes clear, however, that Suzzaravina, Sunrise and Stephanie are doing more than just toggling between the masculine and the feminine—their drag seems to have the ability to let them shift between worlds.