Queer communities have been laboratories for radical cultural innovation throughout history. This was never more apparent than in the twentieth century, when increasing urban populations, changing societal norms, and independent media channels fueled the growth of alternative spaces and networks of solidarity, celebration, and activism. While members of the queer community were often forgotten or denounced by mainstream society and deprived of financial and social resources, their creativity emerged in the less regimented spaces of nightclubs and art spaces. In particular, the ball culture of New York City in the 1980s provided the context not only for performance and costume design, but for cultural commentary, friendship, and AIDS awareness. It was a space to explore gender and sexuality with a community where such freedom would be fostered.
Yamuna Forzani, who graduated from the Textile & Fashion department at The Hague’s Royal Academy of Art, celebrates ball culture in a multidisciplinary practice that combines fashion, photography, dance, installation, and social design through inclusive public events. The ball becomes a shared platform uniting these creative methodologies, paying homage to the balls of the 1980s while also experimenting with new formats or themes. Her Utopia Ball Fashion Show honours the ball tradition of providing a competition structure based on multiple, complex categories of performance, from “Virgin Runway” to “Executive Realness”. This variety of categories acknowledges a history in which queer members of society have sought different modes of self-expression and self-protection, as well as a new set of contemporary aesthetics. Forzani’s collection of twenty-four multi-coloured knit outfits are also debuted in the ball, interweaving the design with the real-world context that inspired it. Her collection is designed not to exclude any individual but to be genderful, celebrating the multiplicity of roles and identities that we embody within social structures.
By hosting such events, Forzani enacts a design practice that celebrates her interests outside of the traditional design field; she leaves space to express her artistic and political activism, as a member of the Kiki House of Angels in the Netherlands and an international member of New York’s House of Comme Des Garçons. Rather than suppressing personal perspectives in accordance with an idea of “neutral professionalism”, designers today can contribute to the most important contemporary debates, from climate change and migration to automation and privacy. Forzani’s work demonstrates the imaginative and rhetorical powers embedded within creative production, and their potential to reach far beyond the design industry.