Documenting Cultural Queen Radha La Bia

Radha La Bia is a drag queen & performing artist based in Sydney, Australia, who caught our eye with colourful costumes inspired by Indian culture and growing up in a matriarchal family in Singapore. We wanted to gain a deeper insight into the identity of Radha La Bia, and the processes involved prior to a performance, so sent photographer Campbell Henderson to document the night of Radha’s performance at a Heaps Gay event in Sydney. Check out our post-event chat with Radha about outfit inspiration, creative identity, and Sydney’s role in the international drag scene.

 Where does your outfit inspiration come from?

I get my inspiration from the likes of Beyoncé, Nina Simone, Erykah Badu, Roberta Flack and actresses in 50s – 70s Tamil cinema. 

Radha La Bia shot by Campbell Henderson
Radha La Bia shot by Campbell Henderson

Do you have a typical beauty routine that you follow prior to a performance? 

I usually wash my face at the closest sink I can find with whatever hand wash there is available. I love going into the bathroom of a party venue as Radha and then coming back out again as myself just to confuse everyone. Once I’m home I usually give my face a good soak in coconut oil too. 

Radha La Bia shot by Campbell Henderson
Radha La Bia shot by Campbell Henderson

Where does your creative identity originate from? 

It comes from my childhood, the women in my family and the kitchen as the centre of the home. Growing up in a modern matriarchal Indian family in Singapore and now processing my sense of displacement from home. Moving to Australia has given me multiple perspectives on migration, culture, race, colonisation and gender identity. I try to explore these in my performances by telling stories in different ways. 

Radha La Bia shot by Campbell Henderson
Radha La Bia shot by Campbell Henderson

What defines you as a performer?    

I’d hate to limit myself by being definitive. 

I guess I like treading the grey areas, I’m a drag queen when I’m talking to someone from the art world and I’m a performance artist when I’m talking to someone from the Drag world.

Are there any role models who have influenced you as an artist?

The women in my life, my fellow performance artists and drag queens. 

What are 3 of your top tracks to get down to?

That’s a tough question the options are endless, anything by M.I.A., Rihanna, Le1f, Kiddie Smile. Currently boogying to Imports (feat Kimchi Princi) by Slim Set. 

What has been your most memorable on-stage moment to date?

Every single chance to be on stage is memorable. I remember an audience member coming up to me after I did a performance for Heaps Gay X Vivid where I tore up a passport on stage to M.I.A’s ‘Borders’ and told me how much it meant to her as she just became a citizen of Australia having moved from Sri Lanka. 

Another one I can never forget is a young boy with Down syndrome who would come by my performance/installation work in London every day for two weeks and would give me a flying kiss through the glass window and ask for one in return. 

Radha La Bia shot by Campbell Henderson
Radha La Bia shot by Campbell Henderson

How do you think Sydney compares to the drag scene internationally?

We’ve got a pretty diverse drag scene in Sydney, from Oxford Street to the inner west although I do think it is a bit divided. We need to embrace our uniqueness rather than compare it to other countries.

Radha La Bia shot by Campbell Henderson
Radha La Bia shot by Campbell Henderson

Check out more of Radha La Bia’s performance’s on his Instagram

Interview by Sara Nicolette, photos by Campbell Henderson.

Subvrtmag

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