Decadence, luxury, glamor, style. These are all words that came to mind when regarding the lush portraits in the aptly-titled series Opulence, by Dustin Thierry. Initiated in the spring of 2013, the project surveys Ballroom scenes in Amsterdam, Berlin, Milan, and Paris. Through his gloriously composed, intimate pictures, Thierry foregrounds the perspectives of LGBTQ+ people of colour who have found community and solace, protection and expression in these cities’ ‘Houses.’ I found each image daring, yet delicate. An honest portrayal of the resolute spirit and cultivated grace that is often necessary to survive—and thrive—in the face of rampant dispossession, exclusion, and marginalization.
– Oluremi C. Onabanjo, Hariban Award Juror 2021
My current project ‘Opulence’ is an ode to my late brother and all people from Afro-Caribbean descent, that still are not free to live and express their sexuality to their fullest. To this day homosexuality is strongly stigmatized and condemned within the Caribbean community. Also, Black people from the former colonies and the Caribbean islands in the Netherlands are increasingly racialised and objectified. This project seeks to break out of this dichotomy by portraying these subjects in unadorned, raw yet graceful portraits. During the spring of 2013 I started documenting the Ballroom scene in Amsterdam, Berlin, Milan and Paris. ‘Houses’ organize vibrant meetings that offer emancipatory possibilities of expression that relate to gender and/or race issues in a trustworthy environment where fashion and attitude mix with mutual understanding. Houses provide a source of family nurturing that oftentimes a lot of kids don’t get at home. LGBTQ+ youth of color are some of the most structurally vulnerable sectors of the world population. In the contemporary Ballroom scene in the U.S and E.U., most LGBTQ+ people of color are working class or poor, and disproportionately suffer from racism/white supremacy, homophobia and transphobia, and dispossession, exclusion, and marginalization in their communities of origin. More specifically, LGBTQ+ youth of color are disproportionately vulnerable to unstable housing and homelessness, violence, mental health problems, suicide, substance abuse, and HIV/AIDS. The project records my attempt to build a living archive of feelings, gender expressions and LGBTQ identities of the Black Caribbean diaspora in the Netherlands as a testimony of the vitality and longevity of the Black LGBTQ community in The Netherlands and the Caribbean. Several prints are enhanced with UV-visible ink: curatorial decisions which gesture towards the experience of concealment and invisibility yet to be overcome by portrayed subjects. —Love is the message.
Dustin Thierry is a contemporary artist and photographer from Curaçao whose work is focused on the Afro-Caribbean diaspora in the Netherlands. Dustin (b.1985, Willemstad, Curaçao) lives and works in Amsterdam. The issues he addresses in his photos are often as personal as they are social: He’s fascinated by what drives people. As opinions and pictures fly around the world, he captures moments of stillness for reflection. Thierry believes that every image comes into its own when given the time and attention it deserves. That’s why he tends to prefer traditional methods. Part of their incomparable beauty lie in the manual process of developing and printing, in which the slowing down of time plays a vital role.