Domestic at Large

As a child I grew up in a town 3 hours east of Bogotá, the main city of Colombia. On weekends my father used to bring us out of the city to eat special cakes and desserts. I remember especially from the early 80´s looking at very luxurious mansions with very exotic swimming pools, eccentric facades, from Chinese pagodas to Swiss chalets, satellite dishes, wild animals in cages, statues etc. These were mansions of the Mafia (narcotrafficantes). In the end of the 80´s the Colombian government started the first persecutions of the Mafia and it had a big influence on the landscape, the same mansions were suddenly all for sale, and after time the luxury and eccentricity were gone and they became mansions in ruins.

With this background as part of my culture and my life, I wanted to come back to this stories and tell again the stories, but from another perspective; “the aesthetics of this culture”. It is a paradox between the eccentricity to show all the wealth to get the acceptation in high society and their illegal situation always hiding themselves from the police and their enemies. Of course the topic of aesthetics in a subculture that has influenced a whole country is very grand. I decided to concentrate my work on just the architecture. My starting point was to photograph the mansions of mafia bosses that had been confiscated by the government and approach the drug trafficking problem from a domestic perspective. I took contact with the Colombian government, and after a long time lobbying, they permitted me to photograph 7 houses in different parts of the country and one storeroom with personals possession (furniture, paintings, sculptures, shoes, etc.).

The mansions belonged to different mafia bosses: “La Posada Alemana” was the property of Carlos Leder, the biggest narcotrafficante in the 70´s; he is now in jail in the USA. His dream was to make a hotel inspired in a small German village, and he was also a deeply admirer of the Beatles, so these two things determinates the decoration of the place. The place has been in hands of the government for around 20 years and is now in ruins. “The replica of the White House” belonged to Joaquín Mario Valencia. This house was his private house; he was the typical narcotrafficante who looked like a wealthy businessman. “La Virgina” is a farm with more than 1000 hectares, and Arcangel de Jesus Henao (the owner), was the boss of the North of the Valle cartel. He was extradited to USA in 2002. “El Castillo Marroqui” is a castle outside of Bogotá; the last owner was Juan Camilo Zapata Vásquez. “Las Gaviotas” is now the social club of the National Police and “Las Heliconias” is a hotel inspired in a small Colombian coffee plantation town; these were confiscated recently and they are still in good conditions. The storeroom is filled with the personal belongings of Elisabeth Montoya de Sarria, better known as “Monita Retrechera”. She was accused of helping the President (Ernesto Samper) to collect money from the narcotrafficantes to support his presidential campaign.

The images of the houses show the eccentricities of a subculture, which reflect a deep contradiction in their idiosyncrasies. Almost all the houses have altars, chapels, crosses, or religious paintings. The photographs reflect a kind of uniformity in the aesthetics; every house has a swimming pool, pool table, a Jacuzzi. Beyond the exotic tastes of the narcotrafficantes, the work underlying other aspects of this phenomenon as the actual state of the houses; some are in ruins, others still have the furniture and objects of the ex-owners and others still function as normal.

These images show ambivalent feelings between the brilliance, luxury in contrast with the emptiness and decadence of the houses. At the same time there is a confrontation between the way media presents this phenomena and how these photographs approach the same topic from another perspective, the every day life of these people with their families, but with the absence of people, telling stories through the traces of people.

I’m presenting a series of 5 pictures 100cmX150cm, and a slide show with 75 images and texts. The texts are short stories, some personal and others were told to me by friends as a reaction to when I tell them about the project; they answer with their personal stories. With the texts I’m attempting to tell about how we Colombians are involved in this phenomenon in our every day life.

Yamile Calderon