On Sunday night, the artist Rashaad Newsome transformed Live Stream Public, a performance warehouse in Bushwick, Brooklyn, into his own extravaganza, as he hosted his third annual King of Arms Art Ball sponsored by Absolut Art Bar series, meshing together his love of two worlds: art and ballroom voguing.
The New Orleans native has been apart of the ballroom community since he first moved to New York City in 2000, and a lot of his artwork is inspired by the ballroom scene—like his 2014 video Knot, which featured queer black men and women voguing in red-soled heels.
He's been called the "godfather" of this generation's ballroom scene. In 2012, he started throwing his own ballroom competitions consisting of performances in categories based on art history, different genres of dance and traditional voguing elements; this year there was a category where the costumes were based on artworks from Nick Cave and El Anatsui.
"This is a way for me to work outside of a commercial gallery or institutional context with the community that inspires my work," Newsome said. "I use this project as a way to build the community and also subversively teach art history, which sometimes I have found is kind of lacking in the community, people being aware of a specific artist, especially brown artists who they should really be aware of."
Newsome also brings together leaders of the underground ballroom scene and contemporary art world with the people (many of them friends) he picks to judge the competition. This year, the judges included artist Mickalene Thomas, culture critic Michaela Davis, Legendary Dawn Ebony of the House of Ebony, and winner of the first King of Arms Ball, Legendary Leiomy Maldonado.
"[The ball] fosters this community of people and it presents this raw grit of dance," said Mickalene Thomas. "People don't realize the dance forms come in many different shapes and facets. Vogue is a dance form that you can use and transform it into any other dance form… traditional ballet, jazz, all of that stuff can be incorparated into vogue. It doesn't matter what you look like, it doesn't matter what size you are, you just have to understand your body and work it."
Switching it up this year, Rashaad Newsome dedicated the Sex Siren category—usually a opportunity for the competitors to show off their bodies and for judges to pick who has the best one—to Black Lives Matter, where each competitor had to use their bodies as symbols of protests. The winner of this category walked with the phrase "Stop Killing Black Trans" written on his scantily clad body.
The Runway was the category that yielded the most outrageous ensembles. Competitors had to come with costumes inspired by artist Nick Cave and El Anatsui and that meant masked faces, graphic bodysuits, and tons of flowers.
The King of Arms Art Ball is clearly an important space for black and latino men and women of the LGBT community. This was my first time attending a ballroom competition, and it was my first time being in atmosphere where I saw people who were so comfortable with their bodies and, most importantly, themselves.
Said Antwaun Sargent, a culture critic and one of the judges for the night: "Often this community isn't able to be represent themselves in the way that they want to be seen, I think Rashaad, by partnering with the community not only with the vogue ball, but also with various projects over his career, has allowed the community to really express, artistically, what they want in their own right."
Tahirah Hairston is a style writer from Detroit who likes Susan Miller, Rihanna's friend's Instagram accounts, ramen and ugly-but cute shoes.