November 27, 2013

Malcolm Venville. The Women of Casa X.

The British photographer Malcolm Venville has made a searing photographic record of a deranged reality. Complementing Venville’s photographs is a series of astonishingly candid interviews with the women of Casa X by the well-known Mexican writer Amanda de la Rosa. These are the portraits and testimonies of thirty-five survivors of the monster of the City, with much to say about life in a slum in Latin America: about the Mexico that horrifies, about sex, poverty, love, and the darkest side of human nature.

One night in Mexico City, Carmen Muñoz, sex worker, was roaming the streets looking for customers. Unexpectedly, she found two colleagues, both over sixty years old, sleeping on the street, covered by newspapers. After almost forty years of giving service to butchers, porters, refuse collectors and criminals, they were now long forgotten by their families and society. Carmen was confronted with what would be her own fate, like most women of her profession. Striving for dignity for all of them, she organised her colleagues and led a group that resolved to find a home where they could spend their last days in safety and warmth.

In 2006, after twelve years of work, and with the support of Mexican intellectuals and artists, the government gave them a seventeenth-century mansion, where Carmen founded Casa Xochiquetzal - Casa X. Around sixty women, all over fifty years old, receive shelter, food, and medical and psychological care. This is not just a retirement home - most of the women who live there still walk the streets. But Casa X is the only refuge for prostitutes in Latin America.

Casa X is located in the heart of the notorious district of Tepito. Although only eight blocks from the historic centre of Mexico City, Tepito is a micro-universe, where life is lived in a unique fashion. For nearly 500 years it has been a place of impunity, crime, smuggling, violence and prostitution. The neighbourhood did not submit to the Aztec Empire, or to the Spanish conquistadors, or to the current authorities. Tepito has an identity that goes beyond its boundaries. It has its own social organisation, myths, heroes, slang, and even its own local deity, La Santa Muerte (Holy Death). The women of Casa X are stuck at the bottom of the ladder of this world, and keeping the memories of it in their bodies.

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