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Art exhibit: ‘Cuerpo Ajeno’ examines the lives of the transgendered

April 24, 2014

“People on the margins of society have always interested me,” says photographer Isabelle Courteix. “The idea to possibly work with transgendered people enchanted me.”

A native of France, Courteix has photographed such disparate subjects as a family in Marseille and street life in Burkina Faso. Courteix now lives and teaches photography in Costa Roca, where she came up with a startling idea: She would help transgendered Costa Ricans express themselves through photography.

The result is “Cuerpo Ajeno” (or “Foreign Body”), a photographic series created by six transgendered Costa Ricans. The traveling exhibit will tour San José art spaces for four months, beginning in Galería Talentum and the San José Technical Institute in Barrio Amón. The exhibit opens on Friday evening.

Courteix’s six students came from a variety of backgrounds, but each contributed a series of photographs and a statement about their work. Mainstream culture tends to respond strongly to gender reassignment, either by glamorizing or vilifying the people who voluntarily transform from men into women and vice versa. But the “Cuerpo Ajeno” participants have used their lenses to explore the complexity of the transgendered experience.

Courteix herself used the workshop as an opportunity to learn about their lives.

“I was very surprised at the whole medical side, the hormonal changes and problems that could result,” Courteix says. “Some self-medicate, which is very dangerous. Others have had major health problems due to the hormones taken. I also found very mature participants and was very touched by the courage that their choice entails. [They] must confront a whole society and their own families. This is not a whim. The price is very high.”

Another surprise: “Some participants are Honduran. In Honduras, transgendered people are killed. Despite this, they still decide to transform their body and appearance to finally feel like themselves. I find that sobering.”

To complement her students’ still photographs, Courteix will also conduct interviews for the duration of the gallery show, as Courteix hopes to record transgendered people in different neighborhoods throughout San José. She has already completed one video, which will screen at Talentum, while second video about transgendered people and their experiences will be released in September.

“I have discovered young women who are very strong and sensitive at the same time, weakened by their journey, worried about their future,” says Courteix. “I was really touched by the stories of each. They will still continue to call for strength, as the road ahead is very chaotic. I’m not sure that many people are capable of so much, nor realize the pain engendered by their situation.”

“Cuerpo Ajeno” opens Friday, April 25, at Galería Talentum, Barrio Amón. 8 p.m. Free. Info: Galería Talentum Facebook page.

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