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Cool Hunting Las Villas Miseria

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Like many large Latin-American cities, Buenos Aires has a huge urban thorn composed of “villas miseria” (extreme poverty). These areas are underdeveloped economically, socially and politically. They are contemptuously called...

Guy Brighton
  • 10 january 2006

Like many large Latin-American cities, Buenos Aires has a huge urban thorn composed of “villas miseria” (extreme poverty). These areas are underdeveloped economically, socially and politically. They are contemptuously called “villeros”.

Now things are changing in these areas. An art gallery has popped up in Villa Fiorito, an artist has started to paint “villeros”, a TV and film talent spotter is seen in the middle of Villa 20, a film in situ, a tour exclusive for Europeans: villas are becoming a new opportunity to develop marketing.

Today, women come to the villas miseria wearing stoles and men sport expensive sunglasses to look carefully at the "villa chic". A tourist can do a two hour sightseeing around Villa 20, getting enthusiastic about a performance at the Fiorito branch of the “Beauty and Happiness” art gallery or falling in love with the "morochitas" (black girls) in Nahuel Vecino’s paintings at Zabaleta Lab Gallery. A fashion brand called “Ay Not Dead” has launched a "villera” range – a line of exclusive clothes.

Between the snobbism and the "exit" to the real world, the creators of the “villa chic” sometimes defend the honesty of the experience. The “Beauty and Happiness” art gallery (with its head office in “Sensitive Almagro”) organizes exhibitions of  "villeros artists". In spite of the good intentions, the interchange between villeros y moderns is severe and, until now, it has been limited to the purchase of ¡a work of art!  Fernanda Laguna, director of “Beauty and Happiness” says: “ I don’t like the intention of finding the poverty aesthetic, for example. You achieve to look yourself reflected in the difference, and a brotherhood is built up. But the European artist that comes and takes photos to poor people ¡they should pay! They should compensate the retroactive because of their lack."

The painter Nahuel Vecino sold almost all of his works from the exhibition “Mara-villa”, shown in Zabaleta Lab. Gallery. The first time he was attracted by poverty was when he was painting a portrait of a beggar and another of a “cartonero” (people who pick up cardboard from the street to sell it). In them, he found "very heroic figures". If poverty was always treated from its cruel side, Vecino wanted to get out of the realism of miseria. He made beautiful shapes and linked it to a certain state of exile, of looking for something, maybe an essence of the human.

The “hunters of talents” (“cazatalentos”)  also do their jobs in villas. They search for new stars in the neighborhoods. Julio Arrieta, who was born and grew up in Villa 21, saw a huge opportunity early: He started to build complete crews of extras for the TV shows like  “Ideas del Sur”  and  “Cuatro Cabezas”, and he is called for every new TV series about poor, crazy or arrested people. Martín Roisi does the same job: he prepared the whole casting for the film “TV Service”, by Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat, financed by the Government of the City, with Juan Palomino in the leading role. Posters plastered the wall asking “Would you like to be a star?” and 80 people turn up. The casting ended up being the film. Roisi also searches for musicians in the Radio Studio disco of Cumbia for new pop groups of fusion, cumbia with heavy metal or chamamé with hip hop echoes.

Contributed By Hernando Gómez Salinas

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