An unflattering portrait of a prevailing Latin American reality
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To some, the picture above tells nothing new. It’s the portrait of four generations of women from a wealthy Colombian family, great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, and daughter, posing for lifestyle magazine ¡Hola!, a version of UK magazine Hello! printed in Spain.
“The most powerful women from Valle del Cauca (Colombia), at the outstanding Hollywood-style mansion of Sonia Zarzur, in Cali’s Beverly Hills,” the story reads.
It’s the maids on the back – both black, both showed in a servant manner-, and the powerful message the overall picture sends, that’s created a huge backlash both in the social and mainstream Colombian media, where many denounce the prevailing colonial structures that the picture reinforces.
“It’s the postcolonial heritage saying ‘hey, I’m here, I haven’t gone anywhere’,” wrote Hugo Martínez, a Peruvian communications expert in a Facebook comment.
¡Hola! magazine specializes in documenting the lifestyles of the privileged elite of royalty and wealthiest people around the world, with photo editorials focusing of the interior of mansions, palaces, and the like.
“I’m Colombian, and yes, I’m outraged and feel sick about this picture,” wrote Héctor Peñaranda, from Universidad del Norte. “To accept that ¡Hola! always does the same is no excuse to accept it now.”
But the debate has heated up because those involved in the picture actually show no sign of seeing anything wrong with it.
Speaking to Colombia’s El Tiempo, the artist who took the picture, Spanish photographer Andrea Savini, said “I don’t have too much too say about this, it’s not a special picture, one in a hundred taken for the article. It must have been the idea from somebody in our team; the maids appeared to serve some coffee and somebody thought of placing them there. There’s no point in going over it.”
“Had these women been white or yellow, it would have been the same,” Savini added. “They’re in the picture because they’re part of the family and, for what I saw, the family loves them and treats them very well.”
“People are disgusted, for 5 minutes, make a joke and move on,” said Adriaan Aselma, editor for Medellin’s Colombiareports.com, referring to the more relevant issues that need to be discussed in his country. Many consider the issue irrelevant in a day where a large demonstration against the FARC has been organized.
Rosa Haluf de Castro, member of the family involved, spoke to radio network La W, where one of the hosts suggested the “indignity” of the picture, also mentioning how it was, in the host’s view, “reminiscent of slavery times.” “We were happy to show how we people in Valle del Cauca work with colored people,” said Haluf. The host also pointed out at the way the maids were portrayed, as “if they were two decorations.”
“We were also the decorations,” Haluf answered, angrily. She would later hang up the phone, effectively ending the interview. “I don’t get. Is it so appalling to work? Is it appalling to serve coffee?”
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