THE WAR ON DRUGS (2019)
In contrast to the traditional piñata, Herck's sculptures are difficult to destroy, an obvious metaphor for the hopeless drug war.
America is struggling with an immense addiction crisis. In the US, more people die from overdose than from firearm violence or car accidents: 52,000 a year. Opiates such as heroin and morphine are a major concern. The American congress recently provided six billion dollars to combat the drug crisis. President Trump’s most substantial proposals related to a wall and the roll-up of drug gangs.
In addition, Trump wants to reduce opioid prescriptions by one-third, and include the death penalty for drug dealers in US policy for the first time.
Nixon declared a ‘War on Drugs’ in 1970. In the eye of the piñata, the pupil has been replaced by the presidential $ coin with the portrait of Richard M. Nixon. The other pupil is replaced by a coin with the national symbol of Mexico, the golden eagle . 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 -made of fragile polyester - 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.
The piñata is symbolically chained by a handcuff with which you can hang the piñata on the ceiling, or present it in the ammunition box where the statue is presented in. This referring to the violent cartels.
Drug gangs, armed with money and guns from the United States, are causing bloody mayhem inCentral 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 chooses to open the eyes of the public and allows us to break free from the traditional ‘drug war’-mindset. This piñata therefore isn’t accompanied by a blindfold and instead of sweets it is filledwith coca leaves - a reference to cocaine -. Where people want to buy something, other people will sell it to them. Delivering demand is the basis of the American economy. The governments of the United States and Mexico must therefore acknowledge the failure of their punishment-oriented drug strategy and be committed to informative campaigns, help drug addicts cope with their addiction,
review legalization policies and tax drugs.
© Tekst by Lara van Oudenaarde
©Pictures by Tom Herck