Ottawa

Sartorial symbol of LGBTQ persecution arrives in Ottawa-Gatineau

The Amsterdam Rainbow Dress, a voluminous multicoloured gown that embodies a powerful statement about the global persecution of LGBTQ people, is now making its way through Ottawa.

Amsterdam Rainbow Dress stitched with flags of countries that ignore LGBTQ rights

Amsterdam Rainbow Dress comes to Ottawa with ‘an important story to tell’

12 months ago
Duration 1:35
Co-creator Arnout van Krimpen says the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress is made up of flags from countries that criminalize LGBTQ+ citizens. Each time a country repeals those laws, its flag is replaced with a rainbow flag.

It took two days at the sewing machine to stitch together the 71 flags that make up the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress.

The result — a voluminous multicoloured gown that embodies a powerful statement about the global persecution of LGBTQ people — is now making its way through Ottawa.

Each flag represents a country where LGBTQ people face imprisonment, torture or even death.

"The dress is a conversation starter with an ugly story behind it " said Arnout van Krimpen, one of the garment's creators.

While the vibrant colours may attract the eye, the dress also reveals the horrors of state-sanctioned homophobia and transphobia that makes life intolerable for many in those countries, said van Krimpen.

"There are people fleeing that because of who they are and whom they love. And we should be open and receptive to people coming from these countries," he said.

Transgender rights advocate Alicia Kazobinka models the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., on Dec. 7, 2021. Now living in Montreal, Kazobinka is originally from Burundi, one of the countries whose flag is included on the dress. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Dress went viral

The idea for the dress came about in 2016, when Amsterdam was hosting Euro Pride and the flags of countries that criminalize the LGBTQ community were carried in the opening parade.

Van Krimpen and a few artist friends gathered the flags, started sewing, and then arranged for a photo shoot of the dress at the Rijksmuseum, where he works. 

The images went viral. Since then, the dress has travelled the globe, modelled by LGBGT activists in iconic locations. 

Arnout van Krimpen is one of the creators of the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress, which appeared at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., on Dec. 7, 2021. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

'A story to tell'

The dress is now making its way through Ottawa-Gatineau for a series of photo shoots, appearing earlier this week at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que.

"I never wore something impressive like that," said Montreal trans-rights activist Alicia Kazobinka, who modelled the dress at the Canadian Museum of History on Tuesday. "It's an honour to represent the people who supported me, and the community."

Kazobinka, who's from Burundi, said seeing its flag on the dress reminded her that there's still a long way to go. 

"Me as an African who decided to move here, it's very difficult for me … I never went back home since I left for my own safety," she said. 

"We are humans like everyone else. Our sexual preference or identity [should] not be a problem to live our lives like any other person."

The Amsterdam Rainbow Dress mirrors the colours of Indigenous artist Alex Janvier’s mural Morning Star in the Haida Gwaii Salon in the Canadian Museum of History. (Sandra Abma/CBC)

On Wednesday, it will arrive at the National Gallery of Canada, where it will be modelled by Ottawa drag queen and Canada's Drag Race contestant Icesis Couture. 

After that, it will be displayed at the top of Toronto's CN Tower. The photo tour is arranged by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Van Krimpen sees the dress as a living work of art, reflecting what he hopes will be positive advances in human rights.

"As soon as a country changes their legislation ... we take out that country's flag and replace it with a rainbow flag." he said. "Imagine if it would be one big rainbow dress. Then you have a story to tell, right?"

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sandra Abma

Journalist

Sandra Abma is a veteran CBC arts journalist. If you have an event or idea you want to share, please do at sandra.abma@cbc.ca.

With files from Hallie Cotnam

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