Skip to main content

Deep in Vogue. Celebrating Ballroom Culture – Kunsthal

Featured image: Princess Gaby Vineyard, Mother Amber Vineyard, Typhoon. Angels chanting and cheering at a ‘Voguer’ (contestant) at the ‘Emerald City Ball’, hosted by the House of Vineyard. Milkshake Festival, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 2017 Film still Documentary O.T.A (Open To All) © Ottilie Maters

Kunsthal Rotterdam presents ‘Deep in Vogue’ this autumn. Celebrating Ballroom Culture, in close collaboration with Amber Vineyard, Mother of the first Dutch ballroom house House of Vineyard.

The exhibition celebrates ballroom culture and gives context to a subculture formed by and for queer and transgender people, black and of colour. The ballroom scene, which emerged from the New York underground scene in the 1970s, first received the attention of the general public when Madonna launched her music video Vogue in 1990, the same year in which the documentary Paris Is Burning also premiered.

In recent years, ballroom has once again been in the mainstream of attention through the television series Pose and ballroom events at major festivals around the world.

In the exhibition ‘Deep in Vogue. Celebrating Ballroom Culture’, using photography, video installations and some fashion items, they portray the community, codes and expressive power of ballroom, focusing on its origins and the ongoing need to celebrate each other in a society that often falls short.

Legendary voguer Willi Ninja with body ornament by Thierry Mugler New York, June 1989 Photo © Chantal Regnault


Origin of ballroom culture

Ballroom culture has its origins in the 1970s in the New York borough of Harlem. Gay men and transgender women, black and of color, often face exclusion and discrimination both outside and within the LGBTQIA+ community. They create their self-chosen families, the so-called houses. These come together during balls: safe spaces where different ideals apply than in the outside world, where white and straight are the norm. Dressed in extravagant robes, ball gowns and uniforms, they take center stage here, seeking fame and status within the community. Queens imitate poses of fashion models to theatrically outdo each other on the dance floor. The posing evolves into a stylized form of dancing known as voguing, with influences from Asian martial arts, Egyptian hieroglyphics and fashion. The vogue performance categories quickly become some of the most popular of the balls.

Although the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s claimed many lives among the ballroom pioneers, it certainly does not mean the end of the community: their legacy continues to this day. The ballroom culture has spread all over the world and the Netherlands also has a thriving community.

Expressive power

In the exhibition ‘Deep in Vogue. Celebrating Ballroom Culture’ highlights the most important aspects of ballroom culture from the 1980s to the present. Thirty black-and-white photographs by the French-Haitian documentary photographer Chantal Regnault tell the story of the structures and mutual affection within the chosen families.

Between 1989 and 1992, Regnault frequently records the members of the New York houses. In the exhibition you can admire portraits of legendary mothers and fathers, but also posing families and the queer community in action on balls in different categories such as fashion, realness, body and vogue performance.

Images of, among others, Willi Ninja (1961 – 2006), also known as the Godfather of Voguing, in challenging poses emphasize the expressive power of vogue. With fragments from the documentary Voguing: The Message (1989), the exhibition paints a picture of the origins of this underground phenomenon.

Documentary maker Ottilie Maters (OT) portrays the five elements of vogue performance especially for the exhibition: duckwalk, catwalk, hands, floor performance and spins & dips. From Maters’ hand, video images of contemporary ballroom culture in Europe can also be seen. The interviews with people from the community show not only how houses and participants are preparing for the competitive balls these days, but also how these houses still offer a social safety net to people who face discrimination and stigmatization on a daily basis. Ballroom provides them with a world in which they can be completely themselves.

The design of the exhibition is in the hands of multidisciplinary fashion house MAISON the FAUX.