The Devil in Cali

In a city once notorious for drug cartels, many of Cali’s artists mine the dark side of its history of violence, economic inequality, magic and salsa

By Stefanie Hessler

Fernell Franco, Untitled, 1970, from the series Prostitutas, 1970. © the artist’s estate. Courtesy International Center of Photography, New York Fabio Melecio Palacios, Bamba 45, 2000, from a performance in the exhibition Terror y Escape. Courtesy Lugar a Dudas, Cali Ana María Millán, still from Film Shock, 2002. Courtesy the artist Fernell Franco, Untitled, 1970, from the series Prostitutas, 1970. © the artist’s estate. Courtesy International Center of Photography, New York Gabriel Sierra, estructuras para transición #10 (que hora es afuera), 2013. Photo: Oscar Monsalve. Courtesy Casas Riegner, Bogotá Cerro de las Tres Cruces (Hill of the Three Crosses), Cali, 2010. Photo: Momentos Fotografía

The air in Cali is thick and humid, and it gets dark at 6pm every day. The old part of town is framed by one-storey buildings into which small shops are squeezed, offering plateau-soled shoes and freshly cut pieces of pineapple in plastic cups. And then there is the occasional strikingly more ‘bling’ building, richly embellished yet not referencing any particular style. Ornamental abundance itself is the theme, from architecture to plastic surgery, of which Cali is Colombia’s hub. My…

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