Interview with Barboza-Gubo & Mroczek

We are proud to introduce you an artistic talented collaborative duo formed by sculptor and painter Juan Jose Barboza-Gubo and photographer Andrew Mroczek. In this interview they speaks about their collaboration and their last ambitious project called Virgenes de La Puerta that focuses on the transgender women of Lima, who continue to be cast aside by the political and religious administrations. These photographs pay homage to the resilience and beauty of these women in an effort to strengthen, empower, and embed a sense of pride within the current and future generations of Peru’s LGBTQ community.

TPS Hello Andrew and Juan Jose you have your artistic personal career. When did you decide to work together and what was the reason? I’d like to start my extending my sincere thanks to you, Giulio and Willi, for reaching out to us in support of our work and these amazing women. We truly appreciate it. And I hope the readers of your site will help spread the word about what we’re doing. We need every bit of help we can get!

To answer your first question, we met ages ago when Juan Jose first came from the U.S. from Peru. I (Andrew) work in the exhibitions department at an art college and he had come to learn more about our programs. But it wasn’t until a few years later that we were reintroduced through the work that Juan Jose was making at that time. He’s a sculptor and painter and we hosted a solo show of his work at the university… we realized then that we work well together, we have a dynamic that challenges the other in a way that energizes the creative process. We aren’t afraid of challenging each other’s ideas… and we both share a similar humor and sarcasm that keeps the process of working together fun, even at the most trying times. Over the course of the last 8 years we have mainly worked together on curatorial projects and exhibitions that centered around Juan Jose’s work. This direction of collaborating on making work together is quite new and exciting. Juan Jose brings his incredibly strong knowledge of fine arts and composition (painting and sculpture, you can see more of his work and my background is in photography, so there’s a nice overlap: Juan Jose gets to broaden his knowledge of photography, and I get the opportunity to get my hands dirty when we’re making the pieces for the images like the crowns for the series Virgenes de la Puerta. What’s also wonderful about that series is that we’ve collaborated with local artisans to produce a great deal of the objects that adorn the woman in the series. So the collaborative aspect goes far beyond just Juan Jose and me.

TPS “Virgenes de la Puerta” about transgender people and “Chicos” about gay young people are your collaborative project. Why do you focus your collaboration about LGBT themes and why  in Peru?

We share similar perspectives even though we were raised in different countries, Juan Jose is from Peru and I was born in the United States, but both countries still don’t support equality based on gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity. And the LGBTQ community is our community, too. These projects are giving us a chance to give back and be a part of the change that we want to see. We saw an opportunity to use our skills in a way that could increase a dialog about equality and about human rights in Peru and we felt compelled to begin doing work there. Peru is a magical country. Its cultural significance is undeniably important, and the people are so incredibly proud. I’m so touched by how warmly I am welcomed by Peruvians. I love being there and I miss it when I’m away. But every country has an underbelly and, sadly, the oppression of the LGBTQ community is directly linked to the Catholic Church and politicians there. Peru is very much like the hub of Catholicism in South America and with that comes a great deal of antiquated ideals and underhanded principles that are more exclusionary than anything else. Additionally, Peru tends to be a very classist society that reveres social status and concepts of machismo and patriarchy. That combination has created a powerfully oppressive climate that has needless restrained and marginalized hundreds of thousands of people. But we are witnessing amazing things happening.  While the church, the politicians, and the upper class continue to oppress, there is a huge movement and a push for equal rights. The movement, in many ways, is driven by the youth of Peru who have great energy and a fearlessness that was incredible to witness last year at their Pride March.

TPS: How did you find the people for your photos and how do you convince them to be featured in this project? How do you approach people to take their intimacy?

The Pride March last year was a big steppingstone for the outreach of our work. We had come to Peru to begin the project of the Virgenes and, by chance, arrived just two days before the march. It was there that we were able to connect with many of the people that became a part of the Virgenes series and it was then that the concept for the Los Chicos series was born. We saw Maricielo from a distance; her presence is incredible, and it was uncanny how much she resembled our concept sketches for one of the Virgenes. That was the first of a series of meetings with her. She really put us through the ringer! I think she wanted to make sure we were serious about the project and clear about our goals before she would be a part of it…. We had to call and email her over and over again begging her to meet with us. And there was a wonderful moment when she finally agreed. At the end of one of our meetings she asked, “So, what are you planning on doing with the images after you make them?” We explained that our goal was to get the work out there as much as possible. We want to exhibit the work in Peru and start a dialog within the community where the change needs to take place. We spoke about lectures, about the book, and about how we can help to impact their community centers. It was then that she responded, “Perfect. I’m in. The last thing I want is this work to sit on shelf somewhere.” And from that moment on a series of doors had opened for us and we gained access to some amazing people. Nearly all of the women we approached were eager to be a part of the project. Those that declined did so because they were afraid of negative backlash for themselves and their families, which we certainly understand. But we approached each woman with our idea of the image we wanted to create with them. We showed them sketches and the objects that we would incorporate into the work. Some images required the woman to be partially or completely nude. We wanted to be very sensitive about the way these woman are portrayed, and we ensure that each images is created with the utmost respect. One thing we learned right away is that people are often afraid of what they don’t know or what they don’t understand. The idea of a person transitioning from one gender to another can be confusing or “scary” for someone who doesn’t identify as transgender, and probably for those who are as well. We are revealing the bodies of trans women of a broad range of ages, body types, and in various stages of their transition so that people can see that it’s not so scary, that it’s not so different. But most importantly, we hope that other trans people see that they shouldn’t be ashamed of their bodies, and for them to see themselves reflected in this work, to see that they are not alone and not different… there are others like them in this community. One of our most fond memories was when we met Leyla. We showed her the sketch of the image we wanted to make with her and when we asked if she was comfortable being nude in the image, she responded that she was proud of her body; indicating she was part male and part female and that it was a beautiful thing. Leyla is a role model. Her pride is incredible and it’s that pride that we hope translates through the image we made.

TPS “Virgenes de la Puerta” is a very ambitious project and your crowdfunding campaign has a big budget.  Do you think that this will help LGBT community for equal rights in Peru?

It is very ambitious, but we’ve done so much already that we can’t stop now. And we couldn’t stop even if we wanted to. We owe it to these women to finish! Juan Jose and I are looking ahead and making plans to finalize the series. We have already contributed over $30,000 of our savings and credit card balances and we have nothing left to give and that’s why we started the Kickstarter Campaign. My hope is that people will spread the word, the way you are with this website, and it would be great if people were able to make a financial contribution. Every bit helps! You can see a full breakdown of the budget in the FAQ section on the page, And we have offered some wonderful things as rewards. You can find the campaign here: We are extremely confident that the project will help the LGBTQ communities in Peru. We’re already seeing how it is making connections between trans people that are strengthening them and creating new ties and bonds. The trans community there is still fragmented…. our goal is to empower them and to help them unify their voices in order to create change for themselves. And we hope that this work shows their oppressors that a change is coming. These women are too strong to be silenced, and Juan Jose and I are honored to share our voices with them. 

All the details about “Virgenes de la Puerta” crowdfunding project here

Check out more artworks from JuanJo and Andrew here