Friday, December 9, 2011

Simple Gifts

In September, Steve Cosson and a team of artists were in Colombia conducting research and interviews about the beauty pageant that happens every year in the national women's prison in Bogotá. They spent about three weeks talking to the women in the prison, including the participants in the pageant (one woman is selected to compete from each cell block), the women watching, past winners, the prison staff, and more. They learned a lot about both the pageant and day-to-day life for the inmates. One of the pretty striking aspects of the daily routine at the prison is that the women don't have easy access to some things that are pretty important to daily life, like toilet paper. There are two ways that the women can get toilet paper and other similar items: if they have money, they can purchase them from the prison store, but more often, the women will have a family member or friend who will visit once a week and bring them what they need. So those who don't have family nearby are left to figure out how to get this stuff on their own.

So Steve and the team went to the Bogotá version of Costco, where they raised some eyebrows by buying around 560 feminine napkins, hundreds of rolls of toilet paper and bars of soap, and lots of laundry soap and bocadillo (a Colombian guava candy).

They put divided up all the stuff into bags (each including two rolls of toilet paper and seven feminine napkins, plus the soaps and candy), and divided the bags by cell block for distribution.

As you might recall from earlier posts, it's not that easy to get into the prison. Each bag had to be individually checked by security before the team was allowed to proceed to the Education Building to distribute everything. Each interviewee and international inmate received a bag. To claim their bag, they got a piece of paper from the prison staff with their name on it. When their name was called by the prison staff, they were allowed to enter the courtyard, walk to Steve who was stationed in the center, hand Steve their slip, he would hand them their bag, and they would then proceed to exit the courtyard and return to the Education Building. The Japanese inmate, who didn't speak much Spanish, seemed pretty confused about the whole thing.

Check out the skyline in the background! 

And be sure to take a look at our photos posted this week on Flickr HERE of the pageant! Here's a few to whet the appetite - they're really incredible!

Check out the detail on this sequin work; it's  incredible!

Costumes are made from recycled materials.

From the folk dancing competition

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