The Museum of Sex may have a reputation for enticing tourists with mildly naughty diversions, but this stately and somber exhibition delivers a surprising political jolt. Juan José Barboza-Gubo and Andrew Mroczek take large-format photographs of trans women in Barboza-Gubo’s native Peru. Though often naked, the women assume the guises of virgins and saints from colonial religious paintings, complete with ornate crowns and halos.
The lush images afford the women a dignity their society and the Catholic Church seldom do. Pilar stands boldly full-frontal in an archway, a vast blue silk curtain sweeping down to graze one of her eyes. Embroidered flowers cascade over a hoopskirt worn by Carol, who poses beyond an open door, unmistakably evoking Velázquez’s Las Meninas.
Another series pictures young gay Peruvian activists, who are naked while inhabiting crumbling colonial interiors, though some of these veer too closely to gay erotica. Yet a chilling video—photo after photo of nondescript places in Lima and other towns where LGBTQ folks were attacked or murdered—makes for compelling evidence that merely being out in Peru carries great risks. These beautiful and stylized portraits hint at the passion of the people working to change that.