Sep 17, 2019

I’m not a big beauty pageant fan: I’ve only watched glimpses of the Miss Universe and Binibining Pilipinas telecasts whenever they’re on, and I don’t really go out of my way to get to know a little more about pageants or the people who compete in them. So, when I went to watch Josh Serafin’s “Miss,” I really didn’t know what to expect.

“Miss” is a work-in-progress that explores representation and performativity in the transgender beauty pageant scene in the country by depicting the rigorous preparations that beauty queens in the country go through in order to prepare for pageants. The performance is the result of Serafin’s research into the history and movement training for pageants in Cebu City and Bacolod City.

Through his performance, Serafin takes the audience through a beauty queen’s preparations for a pageant. He begins the show by dressing up for the night: putting on his outfit and his accessories, before he proceeds to do stretches in heels.

The space is mostly bare, save for an outline of the Virgin Mary on one end and a floral arch at the other. These two elements, according to Serafin, draw from the influences of pageantry in the country. 

“Pageantry always goes back to the crowning: to crown somebody, to elect somebody and put them up on a pedestal. Going back to museums and artists from the 18th century, in the Philippines or anywhere in the world, we depict in classical paintings the crowning to a Virgin Mary,” Serafin would later explain.

As the show progressed, Serafin would guide the audience through the various walking exercises. The process was almost comical: Serafin going through the motions of walking and posing with a wide smile on his face definitely earned a few laughs from the audience. He later revealed that he enlisted the help of pageant trainers Siege Sytancgco and Eljay Ricafranca Villafuerte, who trained with him for four days in order to learn the walks.

The whole performance offers a commentary on performativity through crafting identities: Serafin shows how a beauty queen trains to conform to the constantly shifting ideal of a beautiful woman in our society.

“For example, Miss Universe: the woman that they’re looking for is this fierce, Playboy figure. Miss International, which is in London, of course what they’re looking for are [girls who are] more prim and proper. It says a lot about the culture and the environment they’re from, so the Philippines picks the people that correspond to the ideal beauty of the society and environment where the pageants are held,” notes Serafin.

Learn more about Josh Serafin and his work through the Bellas Artes Project website.


Header and photos courtesy of Bellas Artes Outpost

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TAGS: Bellas Artes Outpost Josh Serafin MISS