Friday, April 24, 2015

From the Archives: Have a Ball!
Wolfgang Busch, Director and Producer of How Do I Look, Showcases the Ball Community and Its HIV Outreach
Article originally published in A&U Magazine, December, 2006


Wolf Busch, the opening night of The Flow Affair documentary, NYC. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Wolf Busch, at the premier of A Flow Affair. Photo by Alina Oswald.
From Madonna's "Vogue" video to films like "Paris Is Burning," the Harlem ballroom community has always been a playground where young, talented gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people can build their self-esteem by competing in categories like fashion or dance as an art form. The "illusion of a runway" that ball events provide for performing members don't only allow them to live out their fantasies, but also to freely express themselves artistically. Organized in "houses" with an (usually) elected "mother" and "father," the ballroom (or ball) community looks after its members and nurtures their talents.


Flagging in NYC, at the opening night of A Flow Affair, a documentary by Wolfgang Busch. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Flagging in NYC, at the premier of A Flow Affair, a documentary by Wolfgang Busch. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

"Some houses are like gangs," artistic activist Wolfgang Busch explains during our phone interview about his new film on the New York City ball community, "in the bad sense." "Paris Is Burning," a film about the house with the same name, has been criticized as exploiting these negative aspects of the ball community. That's why, in his new documentary, German-American filmmaker Wolfgang Busch offers a fresh image of the ball community, concentrating on houses that make a positive difference in the lives of their members. "How Do I Look," which took ten years to produce filming and interviewing community members at various ball events, focuses on educating the upcoming "ball" generation in the positive assets of houses dedicated to helping their members to get an education and a job. These houses also organize balls specifically dealing with HIV/AIDS prevention, education, and outreach. "How Do I Look" also focuses on members of the ball community who, while socially marginalized by racism, perform in the balls for fashion and artistic awards, thus creating their own arenas of standards and success. Many of them, like Tracy Africa, Willi Ninja, or Jose Extravaganza took their runway walks to a professional level.

"What I respect so much about the ball community is its inclusiveness," he says, commenting on what he considers its most important quality. "No matter if you work on the Fourteenth Street or as a fashion designer or [if you are a] celebrity, everybody can walk a ball: People of all shapes and forms have a place to compete."

Busch takes the knowledge that the ball community is all about fashion and glamor and how its members look a step further in his documentary, using "How Do I Look" to show how the ball community members look on the inside, because it's obvious that they look "fabulous" on the outside.

Rev. Charles A. Gilmore Jr, filmmaker Wolf Busch, group picture at the premier of A Flow Affair, NYC. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Rev. Charles A. Gilmore Jr, filmmaker Wolf Busch, group picture at the premier of A Flow Affair, NYC. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Looks are important for one's self-esteem, especially for male-to-female transsexuals who transition and sometimes look as "feminine" as they would like. For them it's really important to get accepted in real life, in their community. So, being part of various ball events and competing for various awards pull them through the hard times.   

Wolfgang Busch's first contact with the ball community was an actual ball at a club called Tracks, in 1987. Yet it wasn't until 1989, through a fundraiser for the Gay Games in Vancouver, when he met assistant director and lifetime achiever in the ball community, Kevin Omni.

As a cultural gay activist, Busch has dedicated his life to empower LGBT artists. He plans a meeting with Al Sharpton and Russell Simmons, both very outspoken in the arts and its role in the political arena because the artistic community is "the most powerful community on the planet," because the "stars," when they unite, can determine major changes in most aspects of our life.

NYC artist Davey Mitchell and Wolf Busch, at Imaginary Eyes opening night, Chashama Gallery, Harlem, NYC. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
NYC artist Davey Mitchell and Wolf Busch, at Imaginary Eyes opening night, Chashama Gallery, Harlem, NYC. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
When it comes to HIV/AIDS, the ball community was maybe the most hit by the pandemic. In 1998 the ball community lost Fila Omni to AIDS. Since 2001, the community has also lost Gerald Dupree Labeija, Kenny Ebony, Eriq Christian Bazzar, and Marcel Christian to AIDS, and Pepper Labeija to diabetes. 

Wolfgang Busch with contributing artist at the opening of Imaginary Eye art show, Chashama Gallery, Harlem, NY. Photo by Alina Oswald
Wolfgang Busch with contributing artist at the opening of Imaginary Eye art show, Chashama Gallery, Harlem, NY. Photo by Alina Oswald
"I think [that's] a scary statistic. That's a really alarming number," Wolfgang Busch comments. That's the reason why he's focusing on houses and balls that make HIV/AIDS prevention, education and awareness their priority.

For more about the amazing journey of Wolfgang Busch as he continues to make art from the heart, check out Art, AIDS & Others post

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