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

Photographing of defiance and opulence of Europe’s contemporary Ballroom scene
Opulence, Wolkoff and Wickid from the House of Garçon with the Grand Prize for Tag Team All American Runway at The United States of Africa Ball Pt.II.
(Image credit: Dustin Thierry)

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. 

LGBTQ community gather for drag masquerade balls

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

(Image credit: 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.’

Image of Ballroom culture in Europe

Opulence, Thaynah Vineyard at the ’We Are The Future – And The Future Is Fluid’ Ball organised by Legendary Marina 007 and Mother Amber Vineyard. Body painting by visual artist Airich. Amsterdam 2018.

(Image credit: Dustin Thierry)

Ballroom culture in Europe from Dustin Thierry's


(Image credit: Dustin Thierry)

Butch queen face at cleopatra ball

Opulence, Enki LaDurée after walking the category; ‘Butch Queen Face’ at the Cleopatra Ball Pt.II

(Image credit: Dustin Thierry)

Femxle figure face during the cleopatatra ball

Opulence, Sarah-Lou Maarek walked the category ’Femxle Figure Face’ during the Cleopatatra Ball Pt.II.

(Image credit: Dustin Thierry)

Femme queen face at the cleopatra ball

Opulence, Harper Ladurée after snatching the trophy for the Category; ’ Femme Queen Face’ at the Cleopatra Ball pt.II.

(Image credit: Dustin Thierry)

Mother honeysha west outside at olympics ball

Opulence, Mother Honeysha West outside at ’The Olympics Ball’. July 2019.

(Image credit: Dustin Thierry)

Until 4 April 2021.


Van Abbemuseum
Bilderdijklaan 10
5611 NH Eindhoven


Harriet Lloyd-Smith was the Arts Editor of Wallpaper*, responsible for the art pages across digital and print, including profiles, exhibition reviews, and contemporary art collaborations. She started at Wallpaper* in 2017 and has written for leading contemporary art publications, auction houses and arts charities, and lectured on review writing and art journalism. When she’s not writing about art, she’s making her own.

With contributions from