Ian Berry’s series of photographs of Cape Town’s famous Madam Costello’s Ball were featured in Drum in 1959, and provided a look into the underground world of drag culture, poignantly capturing its racial intermixture and its air of camp, sadness, and joie de vivre.
The title of the series, moffie, is a word used exclusively in slang, its meaning ranging from “male homosexual” to “effeminate male” and transvestite. Madam Costello, or Joey, was a well-known older queen who regularly hosted drag parties. What renders Berry’s photographs unusual is their intimate nature, captured at a private house party – a moffie drag. At the time, it was considered scandalous to portray this subculture, given how South Africa was already living under an apartheid regime, with its extreme racial, identity and gender labelling society. Drum magazine played an important role in supporting and bringing exposure to Madam Costello’s Ball by paying for liquor and food while covering the event, revealing compelling life stories and exposing the moffie subculture in the popular press. The Ball was considered the ultimate moffie spectacle, and always a huge success with reporters and audiences alike. From the early 1950s to the mid-1970s, Drum regularly published stories shaped as quasi-sociological investigations into the lives of Cape Town’s queer community.