“Miss/They Camaraderie 2024,” Charlotte Street Foundation 

“Miss/They Camaraderie 2024,” installation view (photo by E.G. Schempf)

Under blinding stage lights, only one is crowned, but there is a bond backstage of shared experiences and desires. At Charlotte Street, the exhibit “Miss/They Camaraderie 2024” is filtered through the lens of a beauty pageant, homing in on themes of race, class and sexuality. Archival materials from Kansas City archives, including the Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America, the Black Archives of Mid-America and the Kansas City Public Library, are interspersed with both lens-based and sculptural art.  

“Miss/They Camaraderie 2024” is Charlotte Street curatorial fellow Yashi Davalos’ first exhibition in Kansas City. Hailing from Atlanta and having lived in New Orleans, Davalos initially began her pageant-focused research around beauty queens in the Jim Crow South. For “Miss/They Camaraderie 2024,” she adapted that concept to include the history of Kansas City’s cisgender Black beauty queens, as well as queer pageantry and expressions of beauty.  

Davalos organized the space as a maze, playing with verticals and ideas of interior versus exterior. Archival materials, including the Miss Del Sprite Pageant of 1974, Lincoln Prep’s high school beauty queens and drag performers throughout Kansas City’s history, greet viewers at the entrance. 

“Miss/They Camaraderie 2024,” installation view (photo by E.G. Schempf)

Keeping in line with the archival themes are two collections, “Lord, Lady, Labia” and “Realness,” from Nasir Anthony Montalvo, who has done extensive work to gather and showcase Black, queer history in Kansas City through {B/qKC}. This work continues in “Miss/They Camaraderie 2024” through archival footage and analog video interviews with Black, queer beauty queen Tisha Taylor. The interviews are recent; however, their presentation on a VCR and old-school miniature television pulls audiences into an archival mindset. Not only are these pieces arranged well aesthetically, but they also set the stage for the purpose of the exhibit, giving audiences a window into Black queer pageantry.  

John Brant, Delaney George and Trenity Thomas bring a photographic eye to the exhibit. With a keen focus on the human form, each photographer is uniquely able to capture modern beauty. Alternating between George and Thomas’ photographs, “Mister Floral Wear” expounds on concepts of sensuality through gender subversion. Brant’s collection drips with his signature eroticism, full of opulent costuming and models caught sensually looking out into the audience. 

Boi Boy, Jackob Graves and SunYoung Park bring body and abstraction to the exhibit through sculpture. Park’s pieces are dispersed throughout the exhibit. Though they are abstract, there is something sexual about them, in the blossoms of a banana flower and the tiny heart pinched between thumb and forefinger. Winding into the interior of the exhibit, Boi Boy and Graves have created a quirky satire of what a winner looks like. 

“Miss/They Camaraderie 2024,” installation view (photo by E.G. Schempf)

Davalos explains, “I wanted to create this space to see relics of what would be something that glorifies a winner.” Underneath Boi Boy’s 192 x 48” banner reading and titled “Miss Fortune,” sits Graves’ mixed media and plaster mermaid adorned in a crown. It is both whimsical and unnerving — mermaid flesh swollen and puckered as if over-soaked in seawater.  

“Miss/They Camaraderie” is as stunning as the pageant it represents. There is whimsy, levity, vanity — much to draw viewers’ attention toward, but not so much that the aesthetic becomes muddied. Vinyl decals next to the works give the pieces names, like “Alienated Superstar” and “Miss Teen Dream,” because the pieces themselves act as the royalty of the pageant. These playful and often satirical touches propel the story forward. However, there are moments when the concept is broad and at times distracting. The title “Miss/They Camaraderie 2024” is one example. While it is crucial to include nonbinary identities when delving into queer expressions of beauty, “miss” and “they” are not equivalent and cannot be used interchangeably. Thus, the title is rendered confusing. That being said, “Miss/They Camaraderie 2024” is both eye-catching and thought-provoking. It is a pageant without a single winner, as Davalos has carefully selected a group of artists to form a collective — true camaraderie.  

“Miss/They Camaraderie 2024” continues at Charlotte Street, 3333 Wyoming St., through March 2. Hours are noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. For more information, 816.221.5115 or charlottestreet.org. 

Emily Spradling

Emily Spradling is an adult English-language instructor, freelance writer and founding member of the arts/advocacy organization, No Divide KC. She is particularly interested in the intersections of art, culture and LGBTQ+ issues.

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