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This large colour photograph was produced in an edition of three plus two artist’s proofs; Tate’s copy is the first of the artist’s proofs. 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.
In this image, seven young women draped in swathes of brightly coloured satin fabric languidly recline on the floor and on long low benches in a large room. Patterned carpets, cushions and leopard skins are draped around the space. The back wall of the room is covered with a colourful mural depicting a harem. The young women self-consciously echo the figures in the mural, lounging decoratively in heavily stylised poses that recall the orientalist odalisques of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867), Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) and Henri Matisse (1869-1954), as well as sultry depictions of Hollywood starlets.
Dotted around the room are several eccentric props including plastic trees and a pair of candelabra depicting caped blackamoors striding between palm trees. Spears of asparagus stand upright in one of the candlesticks. A bottle of vodka rests in the immediate foreground on the left side of the image. On the far right of the image stands an older woman wearing green and gold beads and a black dress covered with a long green satin scarf fashioned into a turban over her head. She carries a wicker tray bearing pink camellias and another bottle of vodka. She stands immediately in front of the painted figure of a serving girl in the mural. This woman is owner of the house in which the photograph was made; the other women in the image are her daughters and nieces.
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.