The Center, in partnership with The High Line, is proud to present “Visions of Pride: Paris is Still Burning,” an exhibition depicting the multifaceted nature of ballroom culture in New York City and nationwide through the lenses of photographers Anja Matthes, Damien Armstrong, and William Isaac Lockhart. These artists’ compelling, intimate portraits and landscapes provide an up-close look at the grandeur of the ballroom community and the stories of its members.
“Visions of Pride” is on view in the 14th Street Passage at the High Line from June 22-July 11, 2021.
Underground balls can be traced back to the post-Civil War era. William Dorsey Swann, a formerly enslaved person, organized a series of balls in Washington, D.C. during the 1880s and 1890s. He became known as “The Queen of Drag.” Swann’s secret events were by invitation only and were continuously raided by police.
While Swann’s balls were initially spaces for drag queens, the scene has become more inclusive over the years, growing and expanding throughout the Harlem Renaissance, into the late 1960s and early 1970s, and continuing through today. Eventually, categories such as “Best Evening Wear” and “Realness” were introduced, though they were considered a deviation from more traditional categories such as voguing. Within New York City, the energy of ballroom spread from Harlem down Manhattan’s west side, where to this day teens and young adults continue to vogue on the Hudson Piers, up and down Christopher Street, and throughout the West Village.
Ballroom is no longer the shamed, hidden subculture it once was—it has spread worldwide. Houses and their families can be found in Canada, Japan, the UK, France, the Netherlands, China, and beyond.
Damien “Ddollaz” Armstrong, born in 1981 in Harlem, NYC, has been a photographer and filmmaker since his formative high school years. Starting with Kodak cameras and homemade DVDs, Damien’s art has captured and immortalized moments of ballroom from before it was known to mainstream culture. When first introduced to ballroom, “I noticed there were some of the most zany, creative, beautiful, odd, weird, unexpected, amazingly wonderful things I had ever seen…others needed to see what I saw and felt what I felt when something magical took my breath away…I felt here is a way to capture moments and share them directly with the community.” Damien’s work extends far beyond just photography and has included administrating ballroom’s first website, being a journalist in a publication for members of ballroom, and an organizer of balls themselves.
Anja Matthes is an award-winning Luxembourgian/German born documentary photographer, videographer and visual storyteller based in New York City. Over the past 9 years, Matthes’ work has focused on LGBTQ youth of color. Matthes created Out-Sight-In In-Sight-Out in collaboration with June, a transgender teen experiencing homelessness.
Shortly after, Matthes began working with members of the Kiki scene, a community of at-risk LGBTQ youth of color. Matthes’ work has been published in The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, Bombay Times,and Los Angeles Times among others. In 2016, Anja received the International Women in Journalism (IWMF) grant for her long-term project about the Kiki scene. In collaboration with Housing Works and Open Source Gallery, she has produced and distributed the Kiki Yearbook to members of the Kiki scene. The book was introduced into the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture archive, and the project was featured in W magazine.
William Isaac Lockhart, born March 14, 1987, is an American artist, actor, and model who is an up and coming leading figure in the visual arts movement of this generation. His works explore the relationship between artistic expression through photography and film. William grabs inspiration from various places such as the ballroom scene, live concert performances, and different scenic locations from around the globe for his artwork. His style of work embodies the genius of two icons within his field, Andy Warhol and Tim Burton, providing a contrast between “normal” suburban society and the world of the outcast with dark undertones and a gloomy feel. William shoots for a“Burtonesque” style of photography with a mix of a “Warhol” bold statement, always remaining unique and ensuring his models look and feel unique during and after the experience. His ultimate goal is to become one of the greatest self-taught artists in the world.
Joshua (Dro Tisci) Henry: Vogue performance
Song: “Give It, Slam It” by Byrell The Great & Princess Precious
Video editing: Richard Morales and Tom Stoelker (http://www.tomstoelker.com/)
Joshua Henry, known to ballroom and TV as Dro Tisci, is a member of The House of Tisci and contestant on Season 2 of HBO MAX’s “Legendary.” Joshua studied Ballet at The Dance Theatre of Harlem, becoming the lead male ballet Danseur in “An American In Paris.” This video is a 90-second interpretive dance expressing Joshua’s love for ballroom and how it helped him in his journey.
Artist Statement: “Coming to the ballroom community allowed me to express myself through my artistry beyond the professional walls of the dance world. When I am voguing in front of my community I feel limitless, like there are no boundaries. It’s often when I am the most comfortable in my skin.”
LaTefy Dolley is a queer multidisciplinary artist from Memphis, Tennessee, currently living and working in Brooklyn, New York. He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting with a minor in art history at Memphis College of Art in 2014, and a Master of Fine Arts from the School of Visual Arts in 2019. In their video “Bodies are inherently valid,” they explore the fluidity of dance and how queer-identifying people can transform or change in shape. The piece centers on the metamorphosis of butterflies juxtaposed with a video of Willi Ninja, the American dancer, choreographer, and icon best known for his voguing technique and his appearance in the documentary film “Paris Is Burning.”
Artist Statement: “I am a multidisciplinary artist that makes video, photo, mixed media, and performance work. My work explores conversations about black queer identity through video, photography, collage, and performance work. The source of the content of my work is black southern culture, archived images, algorithm-based data, and alt-text. My practice proposes a deeper examination of Intersections Of Race, Sexuality, Gender, and Class.”
About Willi Ninja Known as the godfather of voguing, Willi was a fixture of ball culture in Harlem who developed a unique style of dance featuring clean, sharp movements. In addition to his appearance in the documentaries “Paris is Burning,” and “How Do I Look,” he was a featured dancer in many music videos. His later career included runway modeling for Jean Paul Gaultier, performing with dance companies, and instructing models on perfecting their walk. Since his death in 2006, he has inspired many artists and is a central figure in LGBTQ & performance studies.
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