Ten queer years

Ten years ago artists, architects and designers collaborated on the Mother City Queer Project’s first party, the Locker Room Project. Architect André Vorster and artist Andrew Putter set out to create art installations devoid of the spatial boundaries presented within a gallery where art is en masse.

‘The whole event is architectural, I design it like I would a building, only I prefer dealing with a DJ than a plumber,” says Vorster.

Ralph Borland, veteran decor manager on this year’s Kitsch Kitchen, says: ‘The party was initially built around the art exhibition.
As it progressed it became less about fine art and more about conceptualised decor.”

Borland, who wears a T-shirt that reads, ‘The first $1 000 000 000 is the hardest”, was ironically the first novice worker to be hired on the Locker Room as a pixie, whose job was to wallpaper the Riverclub. Vorster’s architect colleagues designed incredibly flamboyant costumes and structurally cogent headpieces as they understood the importance of equilibrium in utilitarian design. That set a precedence for the outlandish fancy-dress costumes over the decade.

‘The guests are the decor,” says Vorster. ‘It’s a huge operatic production where we provide the stage and the music.”

This year’s ‘stage” is at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. Former South African artist now based in New York known simply as Marc has flown in to work on video projections and hanging installations. ‘There’s a similar zeitgeist in NYC where the party is about tolerance and this in turn fosters creativity. It’s about being free in your self-expression, which has nothing to do with your sexual orientation,” he says.

According to the Mother City Queer Project, gender orientation is a complete non-issue. Its aim is to normalise and celebrate sexual difference by being non-sexist, non-racist and non-ageist. It’s the idea that anybody can be ‘queer” because it’s about attitude, not sexuality.

‘We’ve moved beyond the separatist gay and lesbian politics of the 1980s,” says Vorster. The parties unite people in a celebration of their individuality while contributing to the community by integrating queers into the mainstream, enabling a social acceptance of queer culture.

Thato, Miss Gay Western Cape and the ‘official bride” for last year’s ‘The wedding” theme, says: ‘In my language there is no gender. I just want to be treated with respect. The party allows me to feel free to open up to my true potential.”

This year’s poster guy, Mo, a black man with white skin, says it’s a good party with no boundaries that’s about freedom of expression through dance.

However, Sandra, a 60-year-old transsexual, says: ‘I’ve been asserting my sexual freedom since the Sixties doll, I don’t need a party for that. The party is just a blast!”

Then there’s Leonard from Bruce Tait Kitsch and Collectables who has 23 body piercings. He says people stare at him in the streets whereas at the party he looks no different to others. ‘It gives us A-grade homos a delightful licence to be free.”

Not all who gallivant at the parties want to release their alter egos or inner selves. Some go for a big jol, the epicurean magnetism of which continues to expand. Fairly loyal followers like Bruce Gordon, art collector and owner of Joburg bar, says it’s instant art and fun and that’s what people expect.

Artist and sculptor Brett Murray calls it a positive razzmatazz festival on the summer calendar. Then again there are the decade’s die-hards who see it through more socio-politically tinted lenses.

Patric Solomons from Molosongololo says: ‘It’s not only about commemorating the change from an apartheid state, but about contributing towards an equitable community where people find new rhythms through interacting.”

Cathy Pagewood, co-owner of Hip Hop clothing, says: ‘Last year at The Castle ... glitter fairies were celebrating the new South African spirit. It’s helped make Cape Town the gay capital of Africa.”

Cheryl Ozinsky, head of Cape Town Tourism, believes the Mother City Queer Project could rival Divercite in Montreal and the Sydney Mardis Gras, and that it will give succour to winning the bid for the 2010 Gay Olympics.

She says it contributes to the brand of innovation that cares for others and is out there and proud. ‘We’re only touching the tip of the pink iceberg.”

Looking back, Vorster says, organising the Locker Room without a PC and cellphone when a slide projector was a winner, was hard. Now it’s a world-renowned event that he believes advertises Cape Town as a progressive and tolerant city.

‘We’re making Cape Town the queerest city in the world. Wheel me out until the 57th Mother City Queer Project.”

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