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'Narco novias' and the drug war art of Carolyn Castaño

A nude figure reclines among marijuana leaves in one of Castaño's paintings, January 2011
A nude figure reclines among marijuana leaves in one of Castaño's paintings, January 2011
Photo by Julio Cruz/KPCC

The ugliness of the drug war has inspired some hauntingly beautiful paintings from a Los Angeles artist, the daughter of immigrant parents from Colombia. KPCC's Alfredo Guzman-Lopez interviewed Carolyn Castaño, who has created a series of paintings based on real-life "narco novias," women drawn into the netherworld of drug cartels through romantic entanglements.

From the piece:

Three years ago, Carolyn Castaño created a portrait of Pablo Escobar and other drug cartel leaders in Colombia and Mexico, paired with the women who became the drug dealers’ lovers, girlfriends or wives.

"What I found is that there’s a high degree of beauty queens and very, models, actresses and journalists who get involved with these kind of dark personas," she said.

She scoured the Web for pictures of what she calls "narco novias" and "muñecas de la mafia" – narco-girlfriends, mafia dolls. The images she found are spread out on her work desk in her second-floor artist’s loft just east of downtown L.A.

The women’s perfect skin and hair makes the pictures look like head shots for a telenovela casting call. Such as Angie Sanclemente, who was the "Reina del Café" – Coffee Queen – and became a model, actress and allegedly the leader of a drug ring that lured attractive young women.

Sanclemente, who was arrested last year after evading authorities, is one of several women mentioned in a recent news story about ex-beauty queens getting mixed up with the cartels.

The paintings are described as a mashup of Renaissance-era depictions of the Roman love goddess Venus with drug cartel references, women in lush garden settings "laundered with flowers from the tropics or like the coca flowers, the heroin poppies, the marihuana leaves," Castaño said.

The series is to be exhibited at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery in May, according to the story, which is accompanied by a slide show that features more of Castaño's art.