The Amsterdam Rainbow Dress, a 20 metre long dress made up from flags of countries that outlaw homosexuality, is on tour of South Africa this month. The Amsterdam Rainbow Dress Foundation carries out missions across the globe, presents the dress and its message, to educate, create awareness and offers a platform of support for those who are displaced because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It aims to highlight the predicament of LGBT persons living in places where being themselves may be illegal or even life-threatening.
Dutch women’s wear designer Mattijs van Bergen and conceptual artist Oeri Woezik constructed the massive dress from flags collected by COC, a Dutch LGBT rights organisation. The dress was launched at 2016 Europride in Amsterdam and was initially worn by transgender model Valentijn de Hingh.
This artwork, performance and installation is made from flags that represent countries where homosexuality is punishable by law globally through anti LGBT legislation, including 8 countries where homosexual acts can result in the death penalty. The bodice of the dress is made from the Amsterdam flag as the Dutch city is known as an overall welcoming place for LGBTQ people. The massive skirt is made from the national flags of those 72 countries where being gay is illegal. The Rainbow Dress Project promotes awareness about state-sponsored homo-, bi- and trans- phobia. Over a third of all countries in the world have this legislation, many of them in Africa.
When a country abolishes these laws, the respective flag is replaced with a Rainbow Flag. Hopefully, the Rainbow Dress will eventually be transformed into one big colourful garment, which represents the celebration and acceptance of gender and sexual diversity. Since the project’s inception, the flags of Belize and India have been replaced with Rainbow Flags.
It is fitting that the idea germinated in Amsterdam. Historically the city has always been a safe haven. Chairman of COC Amsterdam Peter de Ruijter told The Huffington Post. “We wanted, however, to give an activating message, that this role as a safe haven is not automatic. It needs to be supported and upheld by the Amsterdam citizens from a shared understanding of equality for all…Given the current influx of refugees from the Middle East and Africa the dress signals to the Amsterdam citizens: contribute, involve yourselves, connect.”
The Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, in 2001. The Equal Rights Law, enacted in 1993, banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in housing, employment, public accommodations and more. Transgender individuals are allowed to legally change their gender, although protections on the basis of gender identity and expression have not yet been enacted countrywide.
The monumental Amsterdam Rainbow Dress offers an impressive visual representation of the scale of state-sponsored homophobia. By photographing the dress in meaningful locations worldwide, in cooperation with models, photographers, crew members and creatives from local LGBT communities, the foundation aims to cross borders, generate publicity and create a platform of cooperation and support for LGBT communities and those who are prosecuted, displaced because of their orientation or gender identity.
The Amsterdam Rainbow Dress is featured in an extending series of photographic imagery. After successful photo-shoots in Amsterdam, San Francisco, Madrid, Athens, Seoul and Brussels, the dress continues develop this ongoing project around the globe. The dress will be photographed in Africa for the first time when it comes to South Africa this month as part of activities leading up to International Human Rights Day on 10th December as well as the 16 Day Elimination of Violence Against Women Campaign. The Rainbow Dress installation can be seen at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg during on International Human Rights Day on December 10. The Amsterdam Rainbow Dress Foundation will also be part of a discussion program on LGBTI + rights at the University of Pretoria. In Cape Town, the Zeitz MOCAA will be hosting the Rainbow Dress installation on 12th December.
The Cape Town event billed Lgbtqi+ Futures: The Rainbow Dress – Queer Drag performance, will include a panel discussion as well as featuring a show by local genre-defying, gender-bending queer performance artist Angel-Ho who has been causing waves in the international electronica music scene