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The House is Burning

Mariette Pathy Allen photographed Harlem House Balls in the 1980s, “incubators of self-identification”.

Drag balls have taken place in the United States since the post-Civil war era. Dance performances as much as catwalk competitions to celebrate make up and style, they’ve offered in the 1980s an otherwise denied space to honor and explore gender and sexuality. Midnight to 8 am became a time of wonder, where the kind of self-expression that the public streets forbade, and largely still forbids to this day, was reappropriated and turned into art.

As racial discrimination overlapped with the one related to gender for African American and Latinx transgender models and drag queens, Crystal and Lottie LaBeija founded the first ballroom “house” in Harlem in the 1980s. At that time Mariette Pathy Allen began using her photography and writing as a tool to promote gender consciousness worldwide through lectures and cultural publications, cementing her bond with the transgender community in New York City.

“House Ball, Harlem, 1984” by Mariette Pathy Allen is on view at
until July 16.

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