Mapping the Body
Sister Dimension, Billy Beyond, Les Child, Leigh Bowery and Lahoma van Zandt striking a pose at the Paradise Club c. 1984-9. Photograph by David Yarritu.
On the verge of the 40th anniversary of the AIDs crisis, we look back at Bodymap’s part to play and how it remains today.
On the 14th of December, the UK Government announced it would scale back restrictions of blood donation for gay and bisexual individuals.
While this is not a repeal of the discriminatory rule, restrictions that remain reflect both a lingering homophobia heightened during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, and today’s lack of knowledge about AIDS.
31 years ago, 9 years after AIDs began to ravage San Francisco and New York, Susanne Bartsch mobilized fashion’s biggest names in a benefit against AIDS: the 'Loveball' 1989, which raised over $400,000 at the time.
In the UK, the ball scene was taking off: Malcom McLaren’s 1989 song Deep in Vogue introduced vogueing to the British public (before Madonna’s Vogue, by the way). Les Child, dancer and choreographer, would go on to found the UK’s first eponymous vogue house soon after.
Bodymap first made the trip across the pond on the back of Susanne Bartsch’s 1984 New London in New York show, which brought the best of the British to her eponymous shop to revitalize the New York scene. Before making the jump herself, Bartsch sold vintage on the King’s Road as the generation of new romantics rejected punk’s dreary exterior.
Bodymap sponsored the event, and put forward the House of Bodymap; skintight black reflective bodysuits and skirts were trimmed with billowing silver lycra, and were complimented by red tailored pieces and space age dos right out of the air lock – a Trekkie drag fan’s wet dream.
Some people will tell you the 80s in the City were easy. These people were either straight, rich, or both. “It was frighteningly dangerous! But that gave it a tangible electricity of excitement,” says Les Child. “I remember coming out of a club in New York, and we were in Bodymap, and this sort of guy was so offended and called us trolls: “You fucking trolls!” And I just thought “Well, look at the state of you!” he laughs, as he tells this story over the phone.
I remember coming out of a club in New York, and we were in Bodymap, and this sort of guy was so offended and called us trolls: “You fucking trolls!” And I just thought “Well, look at the state of you!”
It was through in this shared passion for a new way to express the body that Bartsch and Bodymap attracted the hottest kids in town: “You had RuPaul, Lady Bunny, Lahoma,” says Les - and who could forget the dame-en-ceruse herself Sister Dimension!
Today, our icons go by different names: Billy Porter, Indya Moore, Dashaun Wesley. HBO’s Pose has been serving us a lesson in queer history since 2018, finally centring the narrative around the Black and Brown voices who built it.
Last year, Porter and the CFDA revived the 'Loveball' once more to benefit the ever-growing number of AIDS cases in the United States. But there’s still work to be done. Although a step in the right direction, the relaxation of donation rules still unfairly targets men who have sex with men, despite the fact that STIs can be transmitted between more than just gay men (shocking!)
Contemporary fashion has a platform to use: the question is, who is going to take the first step, just as Bodymap did?
Read more on Bodymap here.