Miami People

Kunst Is Conehead Royalty

Photo by Karli Evans

The word kunst means "art" in German and comes dangerously close to reading like a vulgar term for genitalia in English. Odds are the eccentric Miami drag performer who adopted the word as a stage name is thrilled and tickled by this seemingly contradictory duality. Kunst has taken an art form that has traditionally toyed with ideas of race and class from stages at Wigwood and Gender Blender to the halls of ICA Miami and PAMM.

But that doesn't mean the gender-nonconforming, queer performer is above critiquing the institutions that are now providing a platform. Historically, Kunst says, drag has been relegated to nightlife spaces, and it's important to use the new platforms to spotlight this history.

"If those people who were doing the work of curation actually, really started to give artists and nightlife a chance," says Kunst, whose academic background includes a focus in performance studies and queer theory, "I feel like their curatorial work would be a lot more exciting."

"I think we need to be more political."

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Drawing upon found objects to construct a look, Kunst has an aesthetic that's starkly different from that of the queens and kings who dominate Miami's drag renaissance. Most striking is Kunst's conehead, jutting up like a crown for misfits.

"A lot of people think that it's about me trying to create an alien character — and I've started toying with that narrative — but it's not something that I'm really committed to. It's more so me trying to understand how to relate to the audience a feeling of alienation." The result is a look that is discernibly queer even in the context of the queer environment it inhabits.

"What I want to do in my work," Kunst says, "is to take up a lot of the different elements of what it's like to live in the world as a queer person, as a gender-nonconforming person, and express those realities in hyperbole to make it as absurd visually as it possibly can be." That exaggeration lends itself to clearer critiques of the ways queer people are ostracized — a level of analysis Kunst believes is sometimes lost in drag performance.

"I think drag has always been at the forefront of a genuine political conversation," Kunst says. "This is one criticism that people know that I'm always leveling against the drag scene down here: I think we need to be more political. I think there's a tendency right now, here in the city, to make queerness apolitical... [But] everything we do as queer people is always political."

Janet Jones | Lawrence Page