BOWERYTOPIA: The Influence of Radical Queer Spaces

Bowerytopia, ‘a radical queer costume and dance party’, is the brazen brainchild of design group The Stitchery Collective and inspired by Australian queer icon Leigh Bowery. Today I’m meeting one of its founders, Anna Hickey, to discuss the influence of queer spaces, connecting joyfully through clothes and the dismantling of gender norms.

“A lot of people report back and say that they’re really happy with something like this in Brisbane, for Brisbane,” Anna tells me. “It’s not for profit or brand image, it’s ‘let’s have a party and dress up really strangely!’” she laughs.

“What we’ve always found fascinating about clothing is that it’s so inescapably both completely individual and completely social.”

The last two Bowerytopia parties have been held at one of Brisbane’s most revered venues, The Tivoli, where Anna and I are both currently sat. The red and gold opulence of the empty venue could not be further from the Stitchery stamp left a few weeks ago. Collaborating with queer dance party Shandy and specifically its founder, Thomas Parer, the collective brought club kid extravagance to life.

The Stitchery have “consulted firmly with the Queer community” to establish Bowerytopia as a respectful and safe queer space. “Thomas has been a great part of building that up in these last two iterations because we try to be as clear and thoughtful and considered as possible in how we build a space and communicate it.”

To use Leigh Bowery (an artist and club kid who irreverently played with gender identity and heavily distorted body image) as the focus of these parties is nothing short of genius. It’s impossible to feel self-conscious here, no matter how ridiculous you think you’re dressed.

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“I’m interested in the point of view of gender,” says Anna. “One of the things that really moved me was this thought that ‘wow if I was born in a body that was assigned male I reckon I would have really struggled. Particularly in Brisbane where masculine presenting people are not always afforded the joy of decoration and being silly.”

While fashion is often considered to be a very female, feminine or queer dominated world, Anna thinks “there are a lot of guys who would be interested and just want a bit of support and acceptance in terms of their mates not being critical.”

Anna goes on to say how easy it is for people to bond over clothing and textiles. “What we’ve always found fascinating about clothing is that it’s so inescapably both completely individual and completely social,” she adds. “Every garment you wear defines you as a person but in relation to a broader group of people.”

“Part of the whole objective of the Stitchery was to always invest in Brisbane culture.”

While the Bowery parties are established as safe queer spaces, Anna tells me that “that’s always balanced with welcoming people from outside the community to join in.” She adds: “I’ve seen lots of people turn up to these events who have just come from work and are in their suits or people who just maybe came across us because of our association with the Brisbane Festival. And they seem to just be delighted.”

Bowerytopia doesn’t beat around the bush about what it is, what it represents or who it is for. In being so direct and knowing of itself as a space, it invites those who have that curiosity or passion for clothing, self expression and queer culture.

From an environment of no fashion limits, where inclusivity reigns supreme, exposé can now give you an exclusive glimpse at one unforgettable night…

“Outside of parties we’ve done immersive installations, work in galleries, performances, a lot of workshops,” Anna tells me. “We got our ideological grounding in the very early stages. We spent a lot of time doing workshops that were specifically about bringing people together and some of us would run them with new members of Australian society, often Sudanese women.”

Part of the whole objective of The Stitchery was to always invest in Brisbane culture. The nice thing about Bowerytopia is that it’s just for Brisbane. It could get to bigger heights and sizes in other cities so we might do it at some point but we’ll always hold the original here.”

With people flocking from remote parts of Queensland for one unforgettable night, the importance of spaces such as Bowerytopia needs no discussion. The potential positive influence of them, however, across all communities, is a message worth communicating.

“It’s just a totally different world,” Anna says. “And what a bummer that not everyone gets to experience how nice this is!” 

“Because it changes your life a bit, knowing what life can be like.”

Discover more about The Stitchery Collective here.

Find your next Shandy party here.

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