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10 July 2011

Daniela Rossell, Ricas y famosas

PRIVATE WORLDS, PUBLIC ILLUSIONS

There is one image in Ricas y famosas that depicts very clearly the complex relationship of complicity underlying photographer Daniela Rossell’s book about the identity, domesticity and imagery of Mexico’s upper classes. In front of a mural of an orientalist harem, eight women pose, as though they too were odalisques. […] While the painted odalisques appear indifferent to our imaginary visit, the ‘real ones’ face the camera with a tremendous sense of self, almost always gazing directly into the lens All eight women appear to be bold about the photographic image, yet at the same time afraid of it. They know they are making their faces and bodies available for public consumption, and they have adopted conventional poses from film and magazines for the purpose. […] More than the papers the women may have signed to release the photographer from any charge of intrusion into their private lives, the photographs themselves acknowledge to perfection the existence of a contract. These women have used the photographer as much as she has used them. What makes Rossell’s images so radical is not simply that they open the doors of houses closed off to us by bodyguards. (The gossip magazines and society pages in the newspaper do that already, and no one bats an eye.) More than showing us how the privileged live, Ricas y famosas conjures up the way they would like to live, what they imagine they are like. All of Rossell’s photographs depict a contradictory multitude of fantasies acquired in a disorderly fashion from antiques shops, department stores, safaris. They document one class’s desperate effort to create ‘someplace else’ that is distinct from the collage of abject rural poverty in which the rest of us live. […] Ricas y famosas is, therefore, a traveller’s guide through a series of pseudo-aristocratic tropical Disneylands: escapist locales populated equally by the ghosts of revolutionary priista (Revolutionary and Institutional Party of Mexico) iconography, the unbearable sentimentalism of stuffed animals, and—more often than one might like—works of art. […] The task of contemporary art is often not so much to comment as it is to compel comment Politically, its effect is to intervene in the indifferent flow of signs and images. What gives Rossell’s book its merit is not so much having produced a thesis about the people she portrayed, but rather putting into circulation visual objects that force viewers to portray themselves in public. […] Rossell’s art is one of provocation. It’s provoking a cascade of commentary.

Cuauhtémoc Medina

Exhibition venue : Atelier des Forges, Rencontres d’Arles 2011.