The Amsterdam Rainbow Dress is a work of art in the shape of a dress, with the aim of encouraging debate and awareness about inclusion and equal rights throughout the planet.  It is a monumental dress with a diameter of over 16 mts. (52 ft.) comprised of the 71* flags of countries where homosexuality is punishable by law, including eight countries in which homosexual acts can result in the death penalty. The bodice of the dress is made from the Amsterdam city flag.

How it started

To raise awareness around the issue of illegal homosexuality, the flags of countries where same sex acts were punishable by law were carried in the opening Pride Walk parade of Euro Pride 2016. They were then presented to the four initiators of the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress Foundation – Mattijs van Bergen, Arnout van Krimpen, Jochem Kaan and Oeri van WoezikIn -who in cooperation with volunteers of COC Amsterdam, developed a concept that came to life as the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress.

What does the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress stand for?

The use of international flags, rainbow flags and the Amsterdam city flag underlines the importance of Amsterdam remaining open to LGBTIQ+ refugees and migrants who have been persecuted in their country because of who they are or whom they love. On a national, continental and global level, for centuries Amsterdam has been an LGBTIQ+ safe haven, but this status must be cultivated and safeguarded for future generations, ensuring the city maintains this status. As the dress travels around the world we hope to extend this notion to other cities and communities, advocating for worldwide and multi-layered inclusivity and tolerance.

As a transgender woman, top model Valentijn de Hingh (pictured in the image above) knows better than anyone how to convey this message. She presented the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress to the public at the Amsterdam Museum and also modelled the dress in the stunning publicity photos shot by photographer Pieter Henket at the Rijksmuseum in the summer of 2016. These photos were shot in the Gallery of Honour, in front of Rembrandt’s Night Watch.

The Rijksmuseum, the Gallery of Honour and the Night Watch are considered iconic and representations of both Amsterdammer as well as Dutch identity and heritage. By photographing at this specific site, these pictures underline the history of Amsterdam as an enclave of freedom. In the image below, Valentijn de Hingh poses as the maid of Amsterdam, welcoming 180 nationalities to her hometown.

During an LGBTIQ+ focused mission the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress travelled from the Dutch capital to San Francisco with Amsterdam deputy mayor Simone Kukenheim where, with the support of the Netherlands General-Consulate, we created a second set of photographs underlining the importance of awareness with regards to state-sponsored homophobia and those affected by it.

Set in San Francisco City Hall’s grand rotunda to mark Harvey Milk Day 2017, acclaimed photographer Ashlynn Danielsen captured top model Glo Taylor (in the image above) as she embodies the guardian of strength, resilience and progressiveness of San Francisco’s community. With the help of an LGBTIQ+ crew from the Bay Area, this production emphasizes the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress’ role as a beacon for the international LGBTIQ+ community.

Presentation and comments

On Friday, August 5th, 2016, the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress was first presented in the courtyard of the Amsterdam Museum. The accompanying art photographs, shot by acclaimed photographer Pieter Henket with LGBT+ activist and transgender top model Valentijn de Hingh, have since been widely published by international media; within a week the stunning images went viral on various platforms and got picked up by written press and television stations worldwide. These publications include Dutch national newspaper Het Parool, Huffington Post, El Pais, the Independent, USA Today, Art Daily, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, BuzzFeed, the Gaily Grind, Upworthy, the Guardian and CTV News Channel. As a result, the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress gained further attention from the Netherlands to China, from Australia to Brazil and the United States to the United Kingdom. In countries that were included in the dress at the time, such as India and Malaysia, heated online discussion was initiated as a result.

In September 2016, the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress joined an important arts and culture mission to New York City, led by Amsterdam deputy mayor Kajsa Ollongren. The mission was aimed at promoting Dutch culture, design and art in the Big Apple, with a total of 112 delegates representing 66 organizations and 12 start-ups.

In May 2017, the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress Foundation was invited by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs to join a program with the Equal Rights Coalition on the annual International Day Against Homophobia, Lesbophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT). With all ambassadors from the Coalition, foreign minister Bert Koenders and a group of LGBTIQ+ activists, allies and additional prominent guests and speakers present, the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress was presented at the ministry in The Hague, preceding a discussion on current LGBT+ affairs.

Also in May 2017, the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress Foundation joined an LGBTIQ+ focused mission from Amsterdam deputy mayor Simone Kukenheim, traveling to San Francisco to tighten bonds, establish dialogues and exchange knowledge, experience and awareness within the fields of art, healthcare, law enforcement, education, politics and business.

* List of countries as comprised by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA). The flag of Angola, Belize, India, Trinidad and Tobago and Botswana have since been replaced with rainbow flags, while the flag of Chad has been added. The Amsterdam Rainbow Dress in its current form consists of 72 national flags, 5 rainbow flags and 4 Amsterdam city flags.

Quick links:

An up-to-date list of all flags currently incorporated in the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress*

Image: Valentijn de Hingh presents the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress in the Gallery of Honour at the Rijkmuseum, in front of Rembrandt’s iconic Night Watch. Image by Pieter Henket Studio.

Image: Glo Taylor presents the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress in San Francisco City Hall on Harvey Milk Day 2017. Image by Ashlynn Danielsen