societies from the nightclubs of Mongolia to the swamps of Venezuela. By documenting his everyday lives, from crowded underground clubs to the quiet sanctuary of his subjects' private homes Àlvaro examines the realities of living in a society that has little to no tolerance for sexual diversity.
In 2011 he captured stunning imagery of the transgender population living in Mongolia in his series Transmongolian. For Àlvaro Laiz, Transmongolian was only the first step in a long-term project focusing on transgender people in different nomadic societies all over the globe.
For the second part of this project, Wonderland, he spent two years in the swamps of Venezuela photographing one of the last native South American people – the Warao.The Warao consider select individuals neither man or woman – they are called Tida Wena. In contrast to Mongolian society, absolute inclusion of the Tida Wena in this indigenous society dates back to pre-Columbian traditions.
" I began working in Mongolia with transgender people and then I got to know there was another point of view. Some anthropologists call it the “Two Spirits” or Berdache theory. While I was working in Venezuela I came to know an anthropologist specialized in the Warao people – we found a common language in our love for photography. We always think about transgender people as something new and related to the cities (drugs, hiv, etc) and I wanted to change that. "
Yet in the last 50 years, the tribes have become more susceptible to outside influences:
Before the late 20th century, the term berdache was widely used by anthropologists as a generic term to indicate “two-spirit” or transgender individuals. In Native American societies, berdaches played an important role both religiously and economically. They were given specific roles in their religion and were not expected to support their family like a male would, but rather they were required to do some of the women’s work and portray the behaviors and clothing of a woman. Historically, Tida Wena have been well integrated into the life of their tribes, and have often held revered and honored positions within them, but things have changed during the last 50 years.
The Warao tribes are extremely sensitive to the outdoor influence. There are a fundamental fact that is strongly complicating their survival: a few independent investigations indicate that a range in between 40% and 80% of the Warao tribe are infected with HIV, whereas Venezuelan government does not support official numbers. Having HIV [has] become a taboo and many people refuses to receive treatment, and eventually face death to avoid social pressure […] Tida Wena (transgenders) and homosexuals have been often rejected and [are[ accused of being responsible for this pandemic which is devastating the warao people.
Watch the haunting teaser for Wonderland and see more of Laiz’s work.
Wonderland Eng from Alvaro Laiz on Vimeo.
Àlvaro Laiz has developed his work between Africa, Asia and South America cooperating with NGO´s and Foundations such us International Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders or World Vision. His photographs have been published in national and international media such us Sunday Times Magazine, Colors Magazine, National Geographic, CNN, Foreign Policy, XL Semanal, EL Pais, Ojo de Pez or Marie Claire.
His work conceives photography as a tool to give civil society in post-conflict zones the chance to be heard, exploring the environment, costumes and traditions of those people at risk of exclusion. Master in Visual Arts at Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca, his work focuses on realities usually ignored by mass media.
Àlvaro Laiz is also co-founder of ANHUA.
all images www.alvarolaiz.com