Photographers: Greta Kalva and Alexander Cameron
Model: Purina Alpha
Words and Styling: Graham Peacock
MUA: Nikole M
Set Design and Nails: Greta Kalva
Studio: Basement 49

If you want to understand how the culture of performance art, club culture and Drag is changing in Scotland, look to Purina Alpha.

Whether she’s on stage at Glastonbury, Edinburgh Fringe, or a Glasgow queer bar, her refusal to be confined to one type of performance style, look, or Drag Circuit makes her as refreshing as she is unpredictable.

It feels like she’s in a world of her own – climbing to the top of Drag competitions and club billings rapidly over the last couple years, but she doesn’t necessarily want it that way. Purina’s performances are about joy – a celebration of her community and her art form, and this love for collectivism extends beyond her work on the stage. She doesn’t want it all to herself – she wants to lift up as many other people who feel like outsiders in the world she’s trailblazing through.

Chatting about her changing relationship with femininity and Drag, and the influence she hopes to have on other performers, Purina represents a shift in how we understand what community-centred creative circles can do. Purina Alpha was borne out of encouragement and guidance from a friend, and this reassurance is what she seeks to give to other people through her work. If you ask us, it’s going well.

Hey Purina, how are you feeling today?

I’m feeling really good today. It’s been a really fun shoot. I’m really happy with how it went.

Tell us about how you got started in Drag.

I started by working at a bar. I’d just moved to Glasgow about six months before and was working with someone who was a resident at Delmonicas and I mentioned that I was interested in Drag but wasn’t sure if I could do it being a woman and be accepted, and they told me I would be. So that’s how me and my drag sibling got started. We started off at amateur competitions. A couple months later I did the Edinburgh Fringe. We both just went from there, and now me and my Drag sibling have crowns in Scottish Drag competitions.

Drag culture seems to be in a constant state of evolution. What’s the biggest difference you’ve noticed since you started out compared to now?

Just this Wednesday, I went to see the same competition I debuted in. It was so different. The level has really improved. People at the beginning are top tier – when I did mine nobody was at that level. It’s changed a lot in that sense. I feel like that’s come with the progression of Drag Race; it’s caused people to hold themselves to a higher standard and things are more competitive now. People are coming out the womb fully ready.

Competitive in a bad way?

Not necessarily. People are holding themselves to a higher standard and have more people around them. It’s nice to see the new generation coming up. There’s more POC people. When I started, Ann Phetamine and I were the only POC Drag Queens in Scotland, and I’m still the only Black Drag Queen. So we’re hoping that’ll change.

And where do you see the future heading?

In Scotland I’m seeing more people of colour picking up the brush and starting Drag which is nice to see, because that wasn’t something I had. When I was starting out there was no one I could ask about makeup advice specific to my skin tone. There’s now people with similar skin tones to me starting Drag, and it’s nice to hear from them that I’ve been a good influence.

I see the future being more diverse. In Scotland and in the wider worldwide Drag world things are going in a new direction, and we’re gonna see more progression and more firsts.

Is Purina Alpha a character?

Umm. The way I’ve viewed that question has changed. I suppose originally it felt more like a character in that I still had it in the back of my mind that as someone who is a woman outside of Drag I needed to give some big transformation when I got into drag. I’d have very bold features, spirally paper lashes and a dark purple lip – it was my average beat. It was a bit Disney villain, not in a bad way – it was just the thing I’d do. Earlier this year when I started my competition I started off with that look and as I went on I started to change to something more natural. At first that was due to me being in a not great headspace so I wasn’t able to do the whole blocking brows thing. But I kind of went with that. I felt that being a trans woman is enough and I don’t have to have this big mask. I’ll still do those big looks on the right occasion. Now I find that Purina Alpha has blended with me more than before. It’s just a heightened version of me.

That’s interesting that you felt that pressure of having to do the most extreme feminine version of drag. Did you feel like that was an expectation on you?

Yeah I did. It wasn’t necessarily because anyone put that pressure on me. I did like to do those major looks at the time, I enjoyed it. Obviously outside of drag trans women are held to a certain level of femininity, and that’s even higher for black women. Drag has been a way for me to escape that and not worry if a movement looks androgynous or masculine. When I’m in Drag I shouldn’t have to worry about gender, that’s kind of the point of it. I’m reaching the stage where I don’t need a big mask, but I do still love big lashes from time to time.

I imagine it could be difficult when your vehicle for self-expression is tied up in your work. How do you stay energised and motivated?

I think I’m reaching a point now where i’m still looking for the answer to that honestly. I love what I do, I have a passion for it. It’s rewarding. I performed twice last week and both times people came up to me telling me how much seeing me has helped other people, seeing me represent people of colour. People have thanked me, which has been really nice to hear. I think that’s my answer, that’s what motivates me – seeing my art influence other people for the better.

Your performances are always filled with joy. What pisses you off?

Working in the industry? There’s definitely some things that are unfair. Some people in the Scottish scene’s behaviour goes unchecked because of positions of power. That frustrates me. Some people who are well connected but not very original get more bookings than people who are original but don’t have friends in high places. That annoys me and other people in the scene. That’s not how all the Scottish circuit is, just certain corners.

It feels as though you’re always working with new upcoming talents, whether they be DJs or designers. Do you feel a responsibility to bring other people up with you? And what is it that makes you decide you want to work with someone?

The people that I work with that are creative and my friends isn’t necessarily because i’m friends with them, it’s because I like their art, and I like what happens when it comes together with my artistic practice. It’s not that I feel a responsibility, I’d do it anyway. I’ll always enjoy working with my friends. I’ve gotten more into performing for DJ sets recently, I love doing that with my DJ friends because it’s a nice marrying of my dance and their music, and same with my friends who make clothes.

It’s been fun spending the day with you. Favourite look from the shoot?

It’s hard to decide. For me, I think the all black look was my favourite. The passersby seemed to agree.

Purina wears Ivy Long Sleeve Top by Rosie MacDougall & trousers by Jade Cropper

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