As a young man growing up in Peru, Juan Jose Barboza-Gubo saw a transgender woman attacked and beaten in his hometown of Lima. "I have beautiful memories of my family and friends, but when I was young Lima was a very violent city… I haven't been able to forget or forgive: It was a senseless act of aggression," the artist says of the incident.
"Many years later, the memory still haunted me and I would begin to analyze why these things happened in my country, as well as other parts of the world. I began to try and understand how and why certain beliefs would cause all of this pain."
In Peru, trans women are marginalized from society and targets for violence, rape, and even murder. They are often denied jobs, housing, welfare, access to medical care, and there are no provisions in place for them to change their legal gender. A 2015 government study found that 90 percent of LGBTQ people in Lima alone were victims of violence.
"The brutality of these hate crimes is something that never fully escapes you," says Barboza-Gubo's collaborator Andrew Mroczek, who is also an artist. "Some victims have been found with over 20 or 30 stab wounds inflicted by a complete stranger, others have been dismembered, one victim was gang-raped and sodomized with objects. These are brutal act of hate and rage."
With Virgenes de la Puerta ("Virgins of the Door" in Spanish), Barboza-Gubo looks to honor the lives of Lima's transgender community. The photographic series, created in collaboration with Mroczek, reimagines trans women from his birthplace—including activists from the Peruvian trans rights organization Feminas—as saints, cultural icons, and religious figures from 19th century portraiture.
Barboza-Gubo hopes that the work will galvanize better acceptance and recognition of the issues faced by transgender women in Peru, especially when the series is exhibited outside of the country. After an exhibition earlier this year in Houston, Peru's biggest national newspaper El Comercio ran a full page on the show and on the lives of trans women in Lima. "We're told it was the first time a pro-trans [rights] story was published in the paper," Barboza-Gubo says.
The photographic series is part of Canon, Barboza-Gubo and Mroczek's project on the Peruvian LGBTQ community, currently on view at New York's Museum of Sex. "At the Museum, we feel that no one deserves to be ostracized based on their body, birthplace, or desires," says curator Lissa Rivera. "Canon is the first exhibition that is an explicit call to action in support of transgender rights and condemnation of the violence that LGBTQI people face."
Virgenes de la Puerta is showing as part of Canon at the Museum of Sex in New York until January 15, 2018. Part of Canon is also on display at the Lugar de la Memoria (LUM) museum in Peru, which is providing support for Peru's first art memorial to remember LGBTQ victims of hate crime.
Correction: A misattributed quote has now been corrected.