LATINO VOICES
02/28/2017 12:21 pm ET Updated Feb 28, 2017

Stunning Photos Follow Cuba’s Drag And Trans Stars From Day To Night

The series captures three performers whose routine days give way to glitzy nights.

When photographer David Tesinsky first heard about Malu, a transgender woman who has achieved somewhat of a celebrity status in her native Cuba, he instantly wanted to meet her. 

Tesinsky, who hails from the Czech Republic, has always highlighted what he describes as “subcultural” groups in his work; he has previously documented homeless Parisians, youth activists in Iran and queer rights advocates in Belarus. He told The Huffington Post that when he finally made it to Cuba in January, he was immediately struck by Malu’s determination to live authentically, in spite of the political and social challenges the Cuban LGBTQ community continues to face.

Malu, who identifies as transgender, has achieved somewhat of a celebrity status in Cuba. 
David Tesinsky
Malu, who identifies as transgender, has achieved somewhat of a celebrity status in Cuba. 

A performer at a Sancti Spíritus theater, Malu is one of three subjects that Tesinsky captured for his “Before Night Falls” series. The others, Natasha and Alina, identify as gay men. Still, both challenge gender stereotypes in their own right, making a second living as drag performers in Havana nightclubs. 

“I’m inspired by contrast,” Tesinsky told The Huffington Post. “That somebody could just be selling fruits and vegetables during the day for a living, and then can turn into a queen of the evening on stage at night,” he said. He was struck by what he describes as a lack of a distinctive “community” in the traditional sense as far as queer Cubans are concerned. “They keep it very low profile,” he said. 

Tesinsky, who plans to visit Israel and Mongolia next, hopes his Cuba photographs will shed some light on how LGBTQ people are exploring gender and identity on the stage “in a country where these things haven’t been tolerated” at all until recently. 

Check out “Before Night Falls” below, and view more of Tesinsky’s work here

  • Abi, left, sells fruits and vegetables during the day.
    David Tesinsky
    Abi, left, sells fruits and vegetables during the day.
  • At night, Abi slowly transforms into singer "Natasha," who performs at a Sancti Spiritus nightclub.
    David Tesinsky
    At night, Abi slowly transforms into singer "Natasha," who performs at a Sancti Spiritus nightclub.
  • Abi smokes a cigarette while his partner and other flatmates are getting ready to make him up.
    David Tesinsky
    Abi smokes a cigarette while his partner and other flatmates are getting ready to make him up.
  • Abi is becoming Natasha with the help of his partner and flatmate. 
    David Tesinsky
    Abi is becoming Natasha with the help of his partner and flatmate. 
  • Natasha gets inside a taxi as she's ready for the show. 
    David Tesinsky
    Natasha gets inside a taxi as she's ready for the show. 
  • Natasha shortly before the show.
    David Tesinsky
    Natasha shortly before the show.
  • Natasha backstage with other performers.
    David Tesinsky
    Natasha backstage with other performers.
  • Natasha receives lots of applause.
    David Tesinsky
    Natasha receives lots of applause.
  • Performer "Alina" holds a photo before their transformation.
    David Tesinsky
    Performer "Alina" holds a photo before their transformation.
  • Alina, left, in a duet with Natasha. 
    David Tesinsky
    Alina, left, in a duet with Natasha. 
  • Malu walks the streets of Sancti Spiritus.
    David Tesinsky
    Malu walks the streets of Sancti Spiritus.
  • Malu, who has endured stints of homelessness, is very popular in the town.
    David Tesinsky
    Malu, who has endured stints of homelessness, is very popular in the town.
  • Malu earns money by cleaning the entire theater before the show. 
    David Tesinsky
    Malu earns money by cleaning the entire theater before the show. 
  • Malu prepares for the show.
    David Tesinsky
    Malu prepares for the show.
  • Malu before a performance. 
    David Tesinsky
    Malu before a performance. 
  • Malu performs in a Sancti Spiritus club. 
    David Tesinsky
    Malu performs in a Sancti Spiritus club. 
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