“All of the subjects in TransCuba are old enough to have experienced the political oppression not just of trans life but also of homosexuality. Allen visits them at a time when they have newfound freedom, after a shift has occurred not only in governmental policy but also in the culture around them, toward acceptance and understanding.”
— Allen Frame, photographer, curator, activist, writer-director
For more than 30 years, American photographer Mariette Pathy Allen has been documenting transgender culture worldwide; in 2004 she won the Lambda Literary Award for her book The Gender Frontier. In her latest series, TransCuba, which was published last year to critical acclaim in a monograph of the same title by Daylight Books, Allen captures the transgender community of Cuba through vibrant color photographs. Her images document the details of the everyday lives of her subjects engaging with family and friends and the community at large, revealing the growing visibility and acceptance of transgender people in a country whose government is transitioning into a more relaxed model of communism under Raúl Castro's presidency.
A selection of Allen's photographs from TransCuba will be the subject of a solo exhibition at the Rayko Photo Center in San Francisco. The opening reception and book signing with Mariette Pathy Allen will take place Thursday, June 25 from 6-8pm. The exhibition is timely as it takes place as President Barack Obama seeks to restore diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba which have been severed since 1961.
Ms. Castro Espín, the director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), contributes a preface to the book. CENESEX is a government-funded body best known for advocating tolerance of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender issues on the island. TransCuba also includes an introduction by Allen Frame, and an essay by Wendy Watriss. The text is published in English and Spanish.
The central subjects of TransCuba are Amanda, Nomi and Malu, three remarkable people with whom Allen formed close bonds during visits she made to Cuba in 2012 and 2013. Allen photographed them in the privacy of their homes, at restaurants and clubs, at the beach, on the streets of Havana, and at performances and special events. The transgender people Allen depicts in TransCuba savor their new freedom to be themselves publicly, while continuing to overcome challenges such as health issues and lack of steady work and money. The photographs and supporting interviews provide an intimate and multi-layered portrait of Cuba and this special community of people that is very different from the stereotypical, one-dimensional depiction of transgender people we are so often accustomed to seeing in photographs and in films.
Mariette Pathy Allen has been photographing the transgender community for over 30 years. Through her artistic practice, she has been a pioneering force in gender consciousness, contributing to numerous cultural and academic publications about gender variance, and lecturing throughout the globe. Her first book Transformations: Crossdressers and Those Who Love Them was groundbreaking in its investigation of a misunderstood community. Her second book The Gender Frontier is a collection of photographs, interviews, and essays covering political activism, youth, and the range of people that identify as transgender in mainland USA. She has also been a valuable consultant to several films about gender and sexuality. Her life's work is currently being archived by Duke University's Rare Book and Manuscripts Library, and the Sallie Bingham Center for Women's Studies. Mariette lives in New York City with a rotating cast of friends and loved ones.
Also featuring images by Anja Matthes
from her long term project on NYC LGBTQ KiKi Ballroom culture
Kiki Ballroom is an ongoing project by Anja Matthes that visually explores the underground NYC Kiki Ballroom scene, a community organized by LGBTQ youth of color, which provides an alternative to high-risk behaviors, as well as a support system for a marginalized group that is frequently a target of violence, homelessness, racism, and homophobia. Today there are approximately 10 active Kiki “Houses” in NYC. A House functions as a surrogate family for youth often abandoned by their parents, collectively empowering and educating their members. Weekly practices and meetings lead to events called Kiki balls, which are judged competitions infused with a positive HIV education message. Performers are awarded prizes in categories such as voguing, realness, and runway based on their handmade avant-garde creations and performance in dynamic battles.
In 2005, I heard the news of two teenage boys who were publicly hung in Iran on charges involving homosexual behavior. Of the few published photographs of the episode, the most shocking to me was an image of the boys, blindfolded, just moments before their death on the scaffold. Thinking about ways to counter homophobia, I began to depict my own life in my photography with the aim to challenge stereotypes usually represented in mainstream media.
I started to photograph my partner Darrin as an expression of love, aware that relationships such as mine continue to struggle for acceptance and social justice in many parts of the world. This ongoing series relates to a personal journey of discovery, self-reliance, and affirmation, especially for those of us who venture to establish a sense of encouragement and historical inclusion.
My intention is to shift away from the stereotypical sexual predictability usually permeating representations of gay men, focusing on ordinary moments and personal experiences, as Darrin and I share our lives together.
Originally from Brazil, Jamil Hellu earned his MFA in art practice from Stanford University in 2010 and was granted a BFA degree in photography from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2003. He was selected for the Artist-in-Residence Program at Recology San Francisco in 2014. Hellu received the MFA Graduate Fellowship Award at Headlands Center for the Arts for 2010–2011. He was also granted a six-month residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris in 2008. He lives in San Francisco. www.jamilhellu.net