A Virtual Ballroom Experience, Hosted by Rashaad Newsome

Elisa Wouk Almino, Hyperallergic, July 1, 2020

“It’s that time again, and we are not going to let the rona stop us,” announced artist Rashaad Newsome on Facebook. Since 2013, the artist has been organizing the King of Arms Art Ball, an annual live performance showcasing work from artists, activists, and the gender non-conforming vogue community. Past events have taken place in New York City, Philadelphia, and Miami. This year, Newsome is promising a “virtual” ballroom experience, presented in partnership with the SOMArts Cultural Center in San Francisco, the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art in Manhattan, and the Art + Technology Lab at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).


On Friday, July 10, King of Arms Art Ball 6 will stream on YouTube Live, with music by MikeQ and live commentary from MCs Juss Precious and Kevin Jz. The lineup of performers — a combination of people who submitted to the open call and were invited personally — will be shared days before the ball (complemented by a few surprise guests).


“Due to virtual events’ dependence on specific internet speeds for success, I decided to shoot everyone performing their category in advance,” Newsome told Hyperallergic. “This process allowed me to take them out of their homes or IRL experiences and lean into the imaginative possibilities of virtual reality.”


As with previous years, the categories for this year’s competition are inspired by specific artists and art movements. For “Old Way,” contestants must dress in the colorful, joyful style of a Barkley L. Hendricks painting. Whereas for “Commentator vs. Commentator,” contestants are asked to compose lyrics inspired by Arthur Jafa’s video, “Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death”: “We want to hear words that embody Jafa’s desire to replicate the power, beauty, and alienation of Black folk.” You can check out the other delightfully unique and creative categories here. The winners in each category will receive $1,000.


“This is the first time LACMA Art + Tech Lab is co-presenting the event,” explained Joel Ferree, the program director for the Art + Technology Lab, to Hyperallergic over email. The collaboration came about after the lab gave Newsome a grant in 2019 to design a “cloud-based AI humanoid” named Being, which will also make an appearance at the ball.


Ferree elaborated, “Non-binary and non-racial, Being provides an opportunity to investigate the social implications of artificial intelligence with respect to rights and liberties, bias and inclusion, and safety and critical infrastructure.” Here’s to seeing what contestants have in store.