This large colour photograph was produced in an edition of three plus two artist’s proofs; Tate’s copy is second in the edition. The print belongs to the series Rich and Famous which comprises images made by Rossell between 1994 and 2002 depicting members of the wealthy Mexican ruling class. Most of the photographs in the series portray the wives and daughters of the moneyed elite in their own homes, palatial houses and apartments that betray their occupants’ opulent lifestyles and kitsch taste. The artist encouraged her sitters to pose as they desired, creating fantasy images complete with extravagant costumes and props. The performative aspect of the photographs is heightened by their theatrical settings.
Rossell grew up in privileged circumstances in Mexico City and the subjects of Rich and Famous are her family members, friends and acquaintances. Many of the subjects are relatives of politicians who served under disgraced former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari (born 1948; President 1988-94), whose tenure was beset by allegations of political and financial corruption. The series has been read as an indictment of a pampered oligarchy in a country where poverty is rife. Rossell’s ambivalent relationship to her subjects and the free reign she gave them to express themselves have resulted in images which function simultaneously as a celebration and condemnation of hedonistic consumerism and eccentric individuality.
This image depicts a young blonde woman sitting slumped with her legs apart surrounded by dolls on a long pink sofa in a chintzy interior. She is wearing a diamante tiara and a white fur jacket over a bright red low cut jumpsuit. The slashed trousers of the jumpsuit have been pulled up to reveal her legs. She stares defiantly at the camera, confronting the viewer with the scowl of a grumpy teenager.
The wall behind the sofa is lined with floral pink wallpaper. A luridly coloured landscape painting in a carved gilt frame is flanked by two rococo-style portraits of young women, one of whom is pictured impassively ignoring the attentions of a suitor. End tables to the left and right of the sofa are laden with photographs in ornate silver frames, porcelain figurines and large ceramic lamps. An elaborate flower arrangement rests on a coffee table in the foreground.
The young woman in the photograph is the artist’s stepsister, who posed for several images in the Rich and Famous series. Unlike many of Rossell’s other sitters who unapologetically flaunt their extravagant lifestyles, her confrontational gaze suggests a more ambiguous relationship with wealth and privilege. Dressed in a tacky approximation of Hollywood glamour, she appears trapped in a gilded cage, angry at the role her place in society dictates she play.
Rossell’s work can be seen in the ethnographic tradition of Latin American documentary photography, but whereas her predecessors including Manuel Álvarez Bravo (1902-2002) focussed their cameras on the underclass she lays bare the excesses of the super-rich. In their detailed depiction of a particular social stratum and their vibrant saturated colour, Rossell’s prints recall the work of British photographer Martin Parr (born 1952; see Common Sense, 1995-9, Tate P78371).
Barry Schwabsky, Daniela Rossell: Ricas y Famosas, Madrid, 2002, unpaginated, reproduced in colour.
Klaus Biesenbach, Cuauhtémoc Medina, Patricia Martin and Guillermo Santamarina, Mexico City: An Exhibition about the Exchange Rates of Bodies and Values, exhibition catalogue, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York, 2002.
Julia Chaplin, ‘Las Mennas’, V Magazine, no.18, July/August 2002.