Photographing the defiance and opulence of Europe’s contemporary Ballroom scene

Photographing the defiance and opulence of Europe’s contemporary Ballroom scene

In his ongoing series, photographer Dustin Thierry charts the ‘emancipatory possibilities of expression’ in Ballroom culture across Europe

In an exhibition at Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, Amsterdam-based contemporary artist and photographer Dustin Thierry continues his ongoing series Opulence, an ode to his late brother and a celebration of the magnificence of Ballroom culture. The series is also a critique, both of homophobia within the Caribbean community, and racialised attitudes against the former colonies and the Caribbean islands in the Netherlands.

Born in Curaçao, Thierry centres his practice on the Afro-Caribbean diaspora in the Netherlands, where he moved at the age of 14. For the artist, Opulence is acutely personal. It was conceived following the suicide of the artist’s younger brother, a young polysexual man who had aspirations of escaping homophobia in Curaçao’s and follow his brother to Europe. The series is an imagining of what Thierry’s brother would have witnessed and experienced should he have made it to Europe, and a poignant exploration of race, sexuality and gender. 

Opulence, Ritchy Princess of the House of LaDurée at the ’On The Cover of Vogue’ Ball under direction by Zueira Mizrahi. Berlin, 2018. © Dustin Thierry

The countercultural phenomenon of Ballroom, a movement rooted in defiance and necessity, originated in 19th-century America. It was a space in which the LGBTQ community could gather for drag masquerade balls and compete for trophies during a time when laws prohibited individuals from wearing clothes associated with the opposite gender.

Thierry began capturing the Ballroom culture in Amsterdam, before charting the scene in Berlin, Milan and Paris. There he found ‘emancipatory possibilities of expression,’ and lavish celebrations of LGBTQI+ identity. 

These black and white photographs of contemporary Ballroom capture both individual and group portraits, young Black queer people ebulliently celebrate their identity in dance competitions. Focusing on the garments, magnificence and zest of Europe’s Ballroom scene, Thierry uses his camera as a tool for empowerment, working on the intersection of fashion and documentary photography. 

Opulence is a series about pride and resilience. It’s a series of dualities: rawness and grace, poignancy and celebration, liberation and repression and as the artist describes, an ‘ode to my late brother and all people from Afro-Caribbean descent, that still are not free to live and express their sexuality to their fullest.’ §

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