In This House: AIDS, Art and Activism in the Vogue Ball Scene
La MaMa Galleria
In This House: AIDS, Art and Activism in the Vogue Ball Scene featured artists Luna Luis Ortiz, Milton Garcia Ninja, Kia LaBeija and Elegance Bratton, moderated by Martez Smith, discussing the development of their creative practice as well as the ball scene as a context for a range of activist pursuits with regards to HIV/AIDS. As a site for "entertainment, empowerment, and elation for many young men and women of color coming into their own in New York City" and beyond, the ballroom community also represents a unique, on-the-ground community for HIV/AIDS outreach and activism. From Luna Luis Ortiz's "The Luna Show" to Kia LaBeija's recent Hector Xtravaganza Xcellence Award at the GMHC Latex Ball, panelists discussed the intersections of their creative practice and their HIV/AIDS activism. Similar to the premise of the annual GMHC Latex Ball, these artists provided perspective on their individual modes of creative AIDS intravention - interventions created for and by community members instead of behavior-specific interventions promoted by public health officials.
Luna Luis Ortiz was born in New York City in 1972. In 1986, he tested HIV positive and in 1988 began his journey as an HIV awareness spokesperson for youth living with HIV and has dedicated his life to HIV prevention and awareness. He has used his photography to tell his story and has been featured on MTV, VH1, TeleMundo, ABC, NY1, MSNBC, LOGO and PBS documentaries. He has exhibited widely, and his work has been published in The New York Times, The London Observer, The Advocate, POZ, The NY Daily News, OUT, VIBE, Gay Times (London), Teen People, BLUE and A&U. He has been a Visual AIDS Artist Member since 1995. Ortiz has also been a part of the House and Ball community since 1988, and was a part of the House of Latex at GMHC as a walking member and peer educator from 1995-1997. He is one of the co-founders of the House of Frame by Frame Fierce, a project that teaches animation filmmaking to high risk youth as a form of activism. From 2006-2009, Ortiz was a spokesmodel for the HIV Stops with Us campaign, and has worked on social marketing campaigns for Gay Mens Health Crisis (GMHC) as well as hosting youth workshops, conferences and health fairs for over 300 youth of color. He hosts The Luna Show on YouTube, which celebrates and preserves the ballroom history of the Latino and Black LGBT experience as well as promotes HIV awareness, and his passion as a father of the House of Khan gives him the opportunity to continue to guide and support young people in the LGBT community. Today, Ortiz continues to inspire and empower youth of color around the world with his story of survival, living with HIV for 29 years. Luna Luis Ortiz is this year’s recipient of the Bill Olander Visual AIDS Vanguard Award presented to an individual in the creative arts living with HIV, and named in honor of the late New Museum curator and co-founder of Visual AIDS.
Milton Garcia Ninja (A.K.A. MGNinja) is a cartoonist whose poetry alongside his cartoon vignettes are prolific in portraying aspects of his life and the lives of those around him. A member of the Legendary House of Ninja in NYC’s House/Ballroom scene and deemed an icon within this creative community, Milton continues to inspire LGBTQ youth, young adults and other communities with his takes on beauty and the simplicity of life. He is an artist, cartoonist, voguer, dancer, choreographer and public speaker who defies conventional truths in society and depicts life through his artwork plus his other endeavors in an enjoyable, yet powerful fashion. In August 2002, Milton was diagnosed HIV positive and has never lost his commitment to enlightening everyone he knows and meets through his unique life experiences. Milton Garcia Ninja is a cartoonist among other talents who is committed to documenting his life experiences and moments some may take for granted but he never does. From subjects as simple as the color red and strawberries to complex issues such as infidelity in relationships, Milton Garcia Ninja (A.K.A. MGNinja) still has a relevant point of view that is both unique and interpretative in a captivating light. His colorful, playful and expressive cartoons will endure in your memory and your heart that are memorable but also stand the test of time. He has managed to survive self-induced conditions due to mental and emotional issues which included drug addiction and learning to love himself again while loving his partner of 7 years in good and bad times. Milton’s cartoon vignettes are sometimes what he calls a “pictorial diary” of what inspires and drives him to better himself plus others around him.
Kia LaBeija is a multi-disciplinary artist working in photography, performance and installation. Her work explores the intersections of community, politics and fine art. She is the recipient of the 2014 Visual AIDS Vanguard award for her work as an artist and activist and has been featured in POZ magazine’s POZ 100 list of HIV/AIDS activists under 30, A member of the Iconic House of LaBeija, she is Grand Prize winner of Women's Performance at the 2015 New York Awards Ball and at GMHC's Latex Ball 2014. She is also the recipient of the Hector Xtravaganza Xcellence Award. Her first highly publicized photography series “24” has been prominently featured in the La MaMa exhibition "Ephemera As Evidence” and is currently touring nationally in Art, AIDS, America, curated by Rock Hushka and Jonnathan Katz, where her work is currently being shown amongst Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Robert Mapplethorpe and David Wojnarowicz. A native New Yorker, she is an alumni of the Juilliard School and the Ailey School, where she trained in music and dance at a young age. She is a graduate of The New School University, with a BA in the Arts.
Elegance Bratton served in the United States Marine Corps as a combat filmmaker, and was meritoriously promoted to Corporal. After his honorable discharge from military service, Mr. Bratton graduated with honors from Columbia University’s School of General Studies with a degree in African American Studies. He is a Humanity In Action Senior Fellow who studied French constitutional law and the rights of minorities in Paris, France. His film Pier Kids: The Life is currently in post-production (ETA Winter/Spring 2015), and is still fundraising. The project enjoyed a successful kickstarter campaign, and has been covered by ABC world News, Huffington Post, Out Magazine, Buzzfeed, Colorlines, Slate, The Fader, Vice, Gayletter, Shadow and Act, and Business Insider. Mr. Bratton is also the author of Bound By Night a photobook that follows the house ballroom family structure across the Northeastern Seaboard to explore the House families’ nighttime bonds. In the Fall of 2015 Mr. Bratto begins his 2nd year of masters work at NYU’s Tisch School of The Arts where he wrote and directed King For A Day, Anthony+Christopher=Kim & Walking In Circles.
Martez Smith (moderator) was born in Columbus, Ohio on May 14, 1991. He resided in his hometown until obtaining his Bachelor’s degree from The Ohio State University in social work in 2013. Currently an MSW candidate at Long Island University Brooklyn, a participant and leader in the ballroom scene, and an HIV activist/advocate, Martez’s creative praxis revolves around utilizing existing social capital to empower and uplift LGBTQ people of color, namely, youth involved in the ballroom scene. Upon entering the ballroom scene and becoming knowledgeable of the ways in which HIV historically and contemporarily impact the community, Martez decided to dedicate his life to identifying and promoting strategies to prevent the spread of HIV and improve the lives of people living with HIV, specifically amongst queer people of color. When he tested positive for HIV on June 21, 2012, Martez solidified his HIV advocacy efforts by speaking out and remaining open about his HIV status. Since relocating to New York City, Martez’s participation and leadership within the house/ball community have led to the creation of a community level intervention entitled Elements of Vogue, a multifaceted intervention for young black and Latino MSM involved in house/ball culture. The intervention aims to improve coping skills and overall wellness among participants. In addition to co-developing the Elements of Vogue intervention, Martez has been involved with numerous community-level interventions designed to promote sexual health education, reduce HIV stigma, prevent new HIV infections, and promote treatment and care for people living with HIV. Some of these interventions include the Greater Columbus Mpowerment Center B.R.I.D.G.E.S. program, the National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) Youth Initiative, and the NMAC RISE Up Initiative. As a current fellow in the Creating Responsible Intelligent Black Brothers (CRIBB) Leadership Development Fellowship, Martez is spearheading the NYC Ballroom Symposium – an event designed to highlight the collective skills and talents of NYC ballroom participants, as well as attack systemic oppression encountered by LGBTQ youth of color.