For more than 30 years, New York based photographer Mariette Pathy Allen has been documenting transgender culture worldwide. In her publication TransCuba (Daylight, April 2014), Allen captures the transgender community of Cuba through 80 vibrant color photographs accompanied by a personal essay and interviews. Her work focuses on 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.
The central subjects of TransCuba are Amanda, Nomi and Malu, three remarkable people with whom Allen formed close bonds over the course of visits she made to Cuba in 2012 and 2013. Allen gained full access to photograph them and their friends in the privacy of their homes, as well as outside at restaurants and clubs, at the beach, on the streets of Havana, at performances, and at special events. Strong, smart, active and optimistic, 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 candid supporting interviews, provide an intimate and multilayered portrait of Cuba and this special community of people that is very different from the stereotypical, one-dimensional depiction of transgender people we are accustomed to seeing in photographs and films.
In the concluding paragraph of her essay in the book, Allen writes: “The people who comprise what we understand as transgender have always existed, but the understanding of who they are and how they can participate in society is new. As the Cuban population as a whole gains greater personal freedom, it will hopefully continue to be reflected in the treatment of sexual minorities. I can envision a future time when mainstream society will be so free of judgment and prejudice that gender-variant people will be appreciated as teachers who show the rest of us how to liberate ourselves from the rigidity of gender roles and find alternative ways of integrating mind and body. For now, though, I just want to celebrate the inherent beauty, artistry, and humor of the Cubans I was so fortunate to meet.”
TransCuba includes an introduction by Allen Frame; an essay by Wendy Watriss, artistic director and founder of FotoFest, and a photographer, journalist and writer; and a preface by Raúl Castro’s daughter Mariela Castro Espín, who is the director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), a government-funded body in Cuba best known for advocating tolerance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues on the island.
Through her artistic practice, Mariette Pathy Allen has been a pioneering force in gender consciousness, contributing to numerous cultural and academic publications about gender variance and lecturing around 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 who 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. In addition to her work with gender, Mariette’s background as a painter frequently leads her to photographic investigations of color, space and cultural juxtapositions such as east/west, old/new, handmade/manufactured. Mariette lives in New York City with a rotating cast of friends and loved ones. (Daylight Books)
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