What do you get when Black culture, fashion, and performance art collide?

Graphic GarMINT, a month-long interactive exhibition celebrating Charlotte’s Black fashion and design scene, is born. 

Graphic GarMINT is the collective brainchild of Davita Galloway of Dupp&Swat, Mint Museum curator Jen Sudul Edwards, curatorial assistant Jamila Brown, and the Young Affiliates of the Mint (YAMs).

The exhibition showcases a variety of mediums including graphic design, mixed media, photography, and fashion design. It will display through the end of the month and is part of a larger exhibit, Fashion Reimagined: Themes and Variations, 1760-NOW, that will be present at the Mint through July 2.

Graphic GarMINT features the work of ten Black designers: Elisha Cutter, David J. Butler, Fart PDF, House of Huebris, Josh Henderson, MacFly Fresh Printing Co., Makayla Binter, TrashGenius, Queen Loany, and Westcott Studio.

Galloway — who curates several creative experiences — began planning for the exhibit and the opening show a little over a year ago. She knew she wanted to pay special homage to the contributions of Black and queer artists, many of whom are less widely-known. 

She decided to open the exhibition with a noteworthy Black art form: Ballroom.

You may be asking yourself what “ballroom” is and if it’s anything like ballroom dancing.

Ballroom, or “the ballroom scene,” is a performance art style that focuses on creative expression and precision.

History of a ‘uniquely Black’ art form

Though Madonna’s 1990 hit “Vogue” video brought ballroom moves to the forefront of popular media, the cultural impact of a uniquely Black performance art form had already made its presence known. Decades before the video’s premiere, the ballroom scene began as a response from queer Black and Latino people who had been shunned from mainstream queer establishments and drag pageants. 

Ballroom was formed when early innovators organized performance-centered pageants where they could be the stars, and this quickly grew to include cis-gendered gay men, lesbians and trans women. All members of the queer community, particularly Black and brown people, came together to celebrate a shared identity and culture. Balls were considered “underground” and were often held late at night in community centers, gymnasiums, and night clubs where members of the queer community could gather in peace.

Ball attendees would form into groups and compete against others by “walking” in a series of categories. “Walking” often included dance choreography, creative expression and serious showmanship. And every movement from catwalk strut, duck walk or hand performance was intended to be executed with sharp precision. These loose cohorts of people walking together became what’s known as “houses.” Out of those early houses came still-notable names in ballroom culture like the House of LaBeija, the House of Xtravaganza and the House of Dupree. 

Throughout the 1980s and 90s, ballroom grew in popularity and expanded beyond its New York City roots, with houses forming in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Baltimore. 

Today, ballroom’s influence is all around. It can be found in fashion shows and music videos, to legendary ballroom figures strutting catwalks for major fashion designers, as well as acting in and inspiring popular entertainment — like the Emmy-winning television show “Pose.”

Curating opening night

To produce the first ever ball inside the Mint Museum for GarMINT’s opening, Galloway enlisted Travis Barnes of the House of Telfar, who is a well-known ballroom emcee. And according to Barnes, helping bring the ball to life was a dream come true.

 “Since I was a kid, I’ve always imagined what the world would look like to embrace the individuality of others. My specific dreams included the Mint,” he said. “The Kiki Ball was a grand expression of what inclusivity, diversity, and equity truly stand for.” 

Opening night’s Kiki Ball –a smaller scale ball — at Graphic GarMINT gave visitors a glimpse into the world of ballroom. Local houses participated, like the Haus of Wintour, Haus of Marie Laveau and the House of Bodega, each taking turns to showcase the five elements of vogue: duckwalk, catwalk, spins & dips, hands, and floor work.

Space to create… and be

Beyond the ballroom activation, artists featured in the exhibition had more than just a chance to display their skill, but an opportunity to help make others feel seen through their work.

Josh Henderson, visual artist and creator of Relax apparel brand, considers it the greatest honor to be recognized as a master of his craft. “To be a Black professional in my field and receive my flowers now while I’m alive is refreshing. I gave a lot of myself for over a decade to art and design,” Henderson shared, speaking of the time he’s spent in the industry. 

Photo: Art by Queen Loany at the Mint Museum (Darrell Anderson)

“To be a part of the GarMINT exhibition was a breathtaking night. I felt charged after that well needed gathering of Charlotte’s best.”

“I do this so people can see themselves and know who they are…that’s the beautiful part of being an artist.” added Elishia Cutter, designer of art-fashion brand TheBoxMethod. She went on to describe her opportunity to participate as a “blessing.”

One of the biggest hurdles for many creatives is finding space in which to display their work and safely share their artistry. Graphic GarMINT seeks to create — and has achieved — is a safe and brave space for creativity and individuality to flourish. 

“For a community to feel a sense of belonging, there must be events, spaces, and organizations that support [them],” Barnes said. 

A sense of pride

When asked what the exhibition represents, Barnes would sum it up with one word: culture — not just that of Black and queer creatives, but of Charlotte itself.

“It is fashion and art designed without [the] barriers of what’s acceptable and what’s not. It’s a love letter and a nod to making everyone feel and know that they belong; that their talents are appreciated, acknowledged, and on display.”

And I couldn’t agree more. As a Black, queer man, being in that atrium at the Mint, surrounded by community, gave me an energy surge and sense of pride. 

Graphic GarMINT is on display in the Mint5pace in the Mint Museum Uptown until Feb. 28. Fashion Reimagined: Themes and Variations, 1760-NOW  is on view through July 2, 2023.

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