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Olga Saavedra Montes de Oca: The Family As A Space For Gender Transition

4 February 202226 February 2022

By reflecting on contemporary images of transgender individuals in relation to their family, the artist seeks to query a focus on gender transition as a contemporary, individual process, to re-locate it in personal and family histories. The focus is on the heteronormative family as a space where gendered differences take place.

About the exhibition

The exhibition shows colour photographs, depicting the Cuban families whose stories are narrated in this collaborative research project. The work also includes video installations, and serves as a space to glimpse and listen to different aspects of the participant families’ dynamics. These families are not representative of all families in Cuba, but their stories, voices and silences are part of three generations of Cubans from within the revolutionary period.

While looking at these photographs, the audience is invited to bear witness to a particular way of experiencing gender within a family setting, beyond the heteronormative gaze on what is meant by the ‘queer family’, or visual anthropological and cultural assumptions in relation to what is meant by ‘the Cuban family’. 

In the video installation, the sounds of participants’ voices not only function as an aesthetic part of the living room installation; they also became a social, political and cultural extension of the family portrait narrative. Its narrative might have served to disrupt the fantasy of the ‘other’ by dismantling heteronormative and colonial preconceptions of what we mean by ‘family’. It reflects a space cohabited by multiple gender identities, as well as race, sexuality, religion and all socially constructed identities. 

Overall, these images are about the celebration of being alive in these very specific moments, about being human and being among friends and family, and caring for each other alongside the harsh material conditions in which the narratives took place.


This exhibition takes place during LGBT+ history month which happens every February in the UK, learn more here.

See here for further reading about Olga’s research that underpins this body of work and the trans community in Cuba.

About the artist

Olga Saavedra Montes de Oca (aka Olisam, b.1967) is a Cuban born, Brighton-based photographer, researcher, and art educator. She holds a PhD in Creative and Critical Practice from the University of Sussex and an MA in Photography and Urban Culture from Goldsmiths University. She was a Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Latin American Studies (School of Advanced Studies, University of London). For the past four years she has taught photography in the Department of Media and Communications at the University of Sussex. 

Her practice crosses between photography, oral history, anthropology, queer studies, family relationships, and memory studies. She has shared her work through both national and international presentations and publications. She co-edited the first issue of Oral History (Journal of the Oral History Society) focused on Cuba (2017). Her photographic works have been published in the Leverhulme Trust Newsletter (2009), the Photoworks Annual Issue 24, and the research project ‘Memories of the Cuban Revolution’ (University of Southampton). 

Her photographs have been used as cover images for two publications: The Voice of the Past: Oral History (2017), by Oxford University Press, and Pioneering Social Research: Life Stories of a Generation (2021) for University of Chicago Press. More recently she has been collaborating with a local artist, exploring consumerism and environmental responsibility. She is currently working on a new project, Unpacking, supported by Arts Council England.


Opening times

Wednesday: 1 – 6pm
Thursday: 1 – 6pm
Friday: 1 – 6pm
Saturday: 1 – 4pm

With the following exceptions:

On Friday 4th February the gallery will ONLY be open 4 – 7pm for the exhibition launch.

On Thursday 17th February the gallery will be open until 8pm as part of Brighton’s Third Thursdays initiative.

Covid safety measures

Due to the rise in case numbers and spread of the Omicron variant the following safety measures are in place at ONCA:

  • Masks must be worn at all times whilst inside the gallery (unless exempt)
  • Hand sanitiser and free masks are available near the entrance
  • Social distancing must be observed whilst moving around the gallery
  • Capacity is limited to a maximum of 10 people at a time

To protect staff and visitors we ask you not to visit the gallery if you or anyone in your household/bubble currently has Covid-19 symptoms or has tested positive in the past 10 days.



Image credits: Photographs by Olga Saavdera

Image description 1: Photograph of the interior corner of a domestic space with bare plaster walls and concrete floor. A small TV sits on a small square wooden table at an angle in the corner, the screen glows with a blurred image of what appears to be a person wearing a black leather jacket and balaclava. To the left of the TV is a small plant. Another small rectangular low table is next to the TV on the left, a cream crochet cover hangs over it. On top is an old fan fan with blue propellers and a cream base. Next to the fan is the bottom of a metal can which has been cut to use as an ashtray.

Image description 2: Photographic portrait of three cuban people. A woman is sat in between two other people who are stood either side of her. The woman is having her hair died and smiles at the camera, she has a cream towel around her shoulders and is wearing a pink top. The person to the left of the woman is wearing green rubber gloves and runs black die through the woman’s hair. They are wearing a blue tank top and grey checked knee length shorts. Their black hair is slicked back into a ponytail and a diamond stud earring is visible. The person stood up on the right is wearing a pink tank top and cut off denim shorts. They have bleached blond hair and an eyebrow piercing, their left hand is propped up on an oil drum behind them. They are all stood inside a room with dark green walls with posters, a clock and bird cage on the wall. Around them are various bottles, rubber gloves and towels.


4 February 2022
26 February 2022
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ONCA Gallery
14 St George's Place
Brighton, East Sussex BN1 4GB United Kingdom

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