Jozi Is Burning – the queer community seeking visibility, survival and acceptance in a city of triggers.
An ode to the critically acclaimed 1991 LGBTQ+ documentary Paris Is Burning, this is a story of South Africa’s queer youth searching for more places to call ‘home’.
The inception of Vogue Nights Jozi was an urge to carry the culture from the legendary mother’s and father’s of New York’s ballroom subculture from the 80s and bring it to life within an African context – a first of its’ kind in South Africa, our land. The growing globalisation and popularity of the subculture might see it drifting from its roots, but this particular movement in the city will try to engage, teach and tightly hold the scene from disintegrating into something that it’s not.
Ballrooms have become a place where queer folks find their ability to become themselves without fear of judgement from society – a place of liberation all in the name of being accepted within a community they could relate to.
Much like the stylish poignant film that followed African American and Hispanic gay men, drag queens and transgender women as they competed simultaneously in fierce and fun competitions involving fashion runways and vogue dance battles, and sporting styles like Butch Queen, Schoolboy Realness, Luscious Body. Many of the contestants were vying for trophies and were represented in “Houses”, such as LaBeija, Xtravaganza, Ninja and Pendavis, served as surrogate families and social groups for predominately youthful community largely ostracised from mainstream society.
The director of this Sundance-prize winning doccie covered complex topics that we still deal with today that include; class, race and racism, socio-economic status, gender, sexuality and beauty standards. The ramification of these issues are ones that we have to deal with on a daily basis – and in a city like Jo’burg, we carry these weights of social oppress like the bags in our eyes from burning the midnight oil on a chaotic Saturday night.
Vogue Nights Jozi is a start of a particular revolution – one that places bodies of gay, transgender men and women, non-binary, bisexual, lesbian, femme and queer-identifying folks into the front the nightlife spaces that cater so little for the community. This is also a project that’s in line with the handful existing spaces that also seek to deal with raising the safety of the community, as well as amplifying the energy of love, vibrating on high frequencies, and moving a culture that is for us, by us. This movement is amplified by W.O.K.E Arts & ActivateWits – and was held for the first time at the J&B Hive on 29 June 2018.
Jozi Is Burning re-imagines the influential 80s artistic revolution, and still draws out the uniqueness of the city’s queer youth. I partnered up with Azania Forest, a young, black talented photographer and visual stylist Khensani Mohlatlole, who teamed up on make-up with Jess Gold Goldberg, to bring this vision into life.
In these visuals, we brought out the characters of the new age queer and showing the spectrum of the LGBTQ+ community. From Pansexual, Bisexual, Gay to Transgender, we vividly expressed the “realness” and the approximation of these archetypes depicted from ball categories, such as Butch Queen, Looking Fish and Serving Fem.
Photography: Azania Forest
Art Direction: Zane Lelo Meslani
Styling: Khensani Mohlatlole
Make-Up: Khensani Mohlatlole & Jess Goldberg