Queer icon Joey Arias donates archives to Harvard

Joey Arias from a 1987 calendar shoot (Image courtesy of Houghton Library)

Queer performance and drag icon Joey Arias has donated a
collection of his personal papers to the Harvard
Theatre Collection at Houghton
, according to the
Harvard Gazette

Arias, whose 40-year career began as a “window dancer” at
New York’s Fiorucci designer clothing store, started his rise to fame when he
connected with fellow queer performance pioneer Klaus Nomi. The two became collaborators,
with Arias singing backup and doing visual designs for Nomi’s shows, culminating
in a now-famous appearance on Saturday Night Live in support of musical guest
David Bowie in 1979.

In the years since, he became a staple of the New York cabaret
and performance art scenes, evolved a drag persona inspired by Billie Holday, performed
with Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas, and toured in “Arias With a Twist,” an
acclaimed adult-themed marionette show conceived with puppeteer Basil Twist. He
still performs regularly at cabaret venues around the country.

Arias (L) and Klaus Nomi (R) flank David Bowie in their now-iconic 1979 SNL performance (Image via YouTube)

According to Harvard Theatre Collection curator Matt
Wittman, the materials donated by Arias include correspondence, artwork,
posters from shows, audio materials, and almost 70 boxes of photographs. Materials
from Nomi’s archives, which Arias held as sold executor of the late singer’s
estate, were also included.

“Joey’s archive illuminates aspects of the performing arts
that haven’t previously been represented in our collection,” Wittmann told the
Gazette. “Part of my impetus here has been to reflect the diversity of American
life and orient the collection more toward current interests.”

As for Arias himself, he admitted, “I don’t know what’s even
in some of the boxes.”

Nevertheless, he went on to say, “My archives show a career
that’s not just drag. It’s drama, movies, performance art.”

“When you hit the top, there’s nowhere else to go,” he added.
“I like to go sideways, where you can transform again and again. I want to
still be something unexpected, someone who you’re not sure what you’re going to

Published at Tue, 10 Dec 2019 02:56:48 +0000