Narco fashion: beauty as power
Mayra Martell was born in Ciudad Juarez and there she began to record the disappearance of women. “I felt it was missing to talk about how difficult, biting and violent it is to miss,” she tells Vist Projects. In 2012 they found 26 bodies in the Chihuahuan desert. They were held at the Hotel Verde. Mayra had portrayed 12 of them in the past. “It’s a horrible situation, full of terror. I was part of it, it swallowed me up directly,” she says.
For the past three years, she has been working with women in Sinaloa, recording how “the narco” became fashionable and how this is expressed in women’s practices. Contests, beauty as power, being a narco’s girlfriend as an aspiration, and the celebration of violence.
What are the differences between working in Juarez and Sinaloa?
In Sinaloa, I registered the narcos’ girlfriends, and I noticed a lot of contrast concerning Ciudad Juarez, which is a border city and the main entry point for drugs into the United States. Juarez is the place where several cartels fight. It is always at war, there is always rampant violence. Sinaloa is the cartel’s home: there is a lot of jewelry, cars, and luxury clothes. In Juarez you can’t go around doing that, it’s more low profile, everything must be inconspicuous. The women of Juarez are cannon fodder for rapes, murders, femicides. They are left lying around. In Sinaloa, it is the dolls, what is presumed, what is showy. What does occur in both cities is the objectification of women’s bodies: “they are mine”.
How did you approach women in Sinaloa?
I follow beauty tips on networks and that’s how I started to see the buchonas. Although not all those who look like buchonas are narcos’ girlfriends because all these people adopted it as trendy, fashionable. More so in California, United States. It caught my attention, everything is very spectacular: the surgeries, the way they dress, the hair, the trips, the parties, all these social dynamics to which one does not have much access. I went to live there to work on that project for 3 years. I went to the nightclubs, I thought about beauty as an element of power, this exploration of what we perceive as beautiful and how it relates to the violent axes.
At what point do girls want to be narco girlfriends and boys want to be narcos?
It is the result of a society that is outdated, that no longer finds hope, that cannot trust the government because the government acts like a cartel, that cannot trust the police because the police act as a cartel. Sometimes you can’t trust your father because he murdered your mother. All these roles were transferred to other places. So it happened that the narco is in fashion.
Who becomes narcos? Where do they come from? From small towns. At what point does the narco become an option? I worked with families, contests, I did nota roja (red news), I covered murders that were happening in Sinaloa, which were a cleansing that was being done. There were also murders of rapists, they recorded everything, they have a lot of video material. That’s when I said “wow!” It was three years that one thing woke me up to another.
Are five books the result?
Yes, and a collection set, like cards. We are editing. Next year we will have those six projects ready and we will make a big exhibition. The first one is Chulada: there I tell how I met them through networks. Then, Culichitown is based on scenarios in the city of Culiacán, where I take some photos of them and they upload them to their networks. Gore registers the taste for violence and in the end, there is a live murder of one of the rapists. In the costumes I saw, I didn’t see any different types of characters, they were all violent characters. People even have an idealized fixation on what the violent character is. Then, in Plebe, I had to have access to Tinder to reach them. The fifth book is Beautiful, all beauty pageants in small towns in Sinaloa.
Wild hunting is a road trip I did in Sinaloa through super small towns, where most of the people who make up the cartel are located. They are haciendas where poppy is grown, where the family of all the drug traffickers is. Therefore the first time I can have a proposal as an author, it is a more personal journey. I felt very nervous, you always feel watched, like in the jungle, that feeling of hunting, of the wild thing. It’s a lot of landscapes, pictures of super idyllic princesses, and something spectacular.
It’s a new way of telling a subject, in a different way to the “denunciation”. The documentary is an exploration. The first thing I do is not to go with preconceived ideas of “the narco is good” or “the narco is bad”. I cannot make a judgment, I simply observe. People get angry. We are very used to information from the past, to the media telling us what is good and what is bad. In the end, it is to point fingers at everyone and point out the shortcomings we have as a social structure. We are part of that violence, of that emotional human deficiency.
Gore – Mayra Martell