THE WAR ON DRUGS (2019)

For Burning Man festival 2019 (Nevada, USA) Tom Herck creates an iconic installation, -a 7 m high piñata facing a wall (12m wide and 4m high) out of wooden pallets, ‘dressed up’ with T-shirts decorated spontaneously by festival visitors then scorched on burn night. The Wall explores both sides of conflict in reference to the Mexican wall and the wall Donald Trump would like to build around the Burning Man premises, as well as a global trend of forting up. The War on Drugs consists of two smaller piñata editions, a cast concrete and a polished gold-colored bronze edition (both 1/8 with 2 A.P.). 

In contrast to the traditional piñata, Hercks sculptures are difficult (concrete) to impossible (bronze) to break, a clear metaphor for the hopeless drugs war. President Trump’s most substantive proposals involved a wall and cracking down on drug gangs. Nixon declared a ‘War on Drugs’ in 1970. Almost half a century -and trillions of dollars later- the country is ravaged by drug deaths. America’s unquenchable appetite for illegal drugs has brought chaos to its southern neighbors and darkened their own political and criminal culture. Just like ‘drug mules’, the piñatas carry a bag, inspired by cocaine bags -strapped up with a belt similar to those drug addicts tie their arm with-. Herck refers to the phenomenon of drug trafficking and, in particular, the use of human carriers ('drug mules') for this purpose as well as the ‘ghetto piñata’ a person on and in which you can find an excessive amount of drugs.

As part of the installation, the audience is invited to hit the piñatas with a police baton -the handle adorned with a skull, a vanitas symbol often used by the artist-. The police baton is highly symbolic of law enforcement. The War on Drugs has made policing more violent. Aggressive policing has led to thousands of young drug users filling American prisons, where they learn how to become real criminals. The high black-market price for illegal drugs has generated huge profits for the groups that produce and sell them, income that is invested in buying state-of-the-art weapons. Drug gangs, armed with money and guns from the United States, are causing bloody mayhem in Central American countries. In Mexico alone, drug-related violence has resulted in over 100,000 deaths since 2006. This violence is one of the reasons people leave these countries to come to the United States. The implementation of repressive anti-drug policies has had serious worldwide consequences in terms of human rights. Over the past several decades, Latin America has seen penalties for drug crimes skyrocket. The police baton has also become a symbol of police violence against harmless, often under-aged drug users -f.e. in the Heath Park Road arrest in Romford, U.S., April 2019, or the violent Byron Bay -Australia- police arrest on January 11, 2018. 

The current approach to dealing with the drug trade in Mexico is called ‘piñata policy’; put on a blindfold and swing a big stick hoping that you hit something and a bunch of candy falls out. Herck allows his audience to break free from the drug war mindset. Where people want to buy something, other people will sell it to them. Supplying demand is the foundation of the American economy. The United States and Mexican governments must therefore acknowledge the failure of their drug strategy as a matter of criminal justice and should engage in education campaigns, help drug addicts to cope with their addiction, review the legalizing policy and start taxing drugs.

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 1. The 2020 United States presidential election are scheduled for Tuesday, November 3, 2020. President Donald Trump of the Republican Party, who was elected in 2016, is seeking re-election to a second term.
 2. During this arest a teenager was hit about 20 times with batons after being capsicum sprayed and tasered.

© Text by Lara van Oudenaarde