Tag Archives: Salvador Diaz Gallery

Teresa Margolles, Drug Related Violence in Mexico, and Art Basel 2008

20 Dec

teresa-margolles-8The work of Teresa Margolles called “21 – Rendición de Cuentas” or (21- Score-Settling Incidents), was presented by the Madrid based Salvador Diaz Gallery. Her work is dear to me because my research is also on the effects of the illicit drug business. Teresa Margolles is from Sinaloa, Mexico a northwestern state of that country, where currently the murder rate per day sometimes can be as high as about one person per hour. These murders are the product of drug related violence due to quarrels between state officials and drug trafficking organizations or among drug dealers. The confrontations can be triggered by disagreements on territory, drug routes, business disputes, women, and etc. Margolles’s work focuses on the killings done to settle disputes.

Her work was showcased in Basel’s Art Positions section on the beach. Upon entering the container exhibiting her work, you saw several glass jewelry displays. When you took a closer look at the encased jewelry, in the back panel of each glass display, you saw a description not of the piece of jewelry, but of a crime report describing how a violent act was perpetrated to settle a score between drug dealers. The description was un-emotional and detailed as to the number individuals involved, weapons used, and time and date of the event. The gold jewelry was of similar design, it was all done by Teresa Margolles, and was meant to be as ostentatious as the pieces generally worn by drug dealers. The jewelry’s centerpiece appears to be a semi-precious stone, but instead it is broken glass derived from cars at crime scenes investigating a score-settling incident.  The pieces of shattered glass are collected by the artist directly at crime scenes or the pieces are given to her by the police (sometimes the glass was extracted from a corpse).

The art collection is meant to be macabre because violence is macabre, and it shows the ultimate consequences of greed and power. Margolles turns greed and power on their head, by creating jewelry that shows narcos, how their lifestyle kills them. In an interview Margolles explains, “I wanted to take the value away from these jewels and replace it with their score-settling incidents, so that they can see their deaths” (EFE TV). This is a moralistic piece, no question. But the question is: who will buy this art? This is a similar question, which I had with last year’s pieces by Clinton Fein on the Abu Ghraib Prison Tortures. This is art that delves into deep social issues, but which is marketed in galleries and which ultimately becomes a status symbol of wealth and power, the same wealth and power that is being critiqued by the artists.

An interesting detail about the exhibit was people’s reaction to the jewelry, which admittedly touches an emotional chord for me. At the exhibit, most people did not speak Spanish, and the descriptions of the drug related assassinations behind the jewelry were in Spanish. People just saw the gold pieces. However, if casual observers did make a point of reading the English description of Margolles’s exhibit on the back wall of the container, they would later find out that the pieces were made out of gold and glass by a local jewelry-maker for narcos, and that the glass was collected from crime scenes. In other words, the description was very ambiguous. If you have no idea of where Sinaloa is, what the murder rate is, and that there is a “Drug War” taking place in Sinaloa, then the exhibit has no significance for you.  Many people will have no clue that a drug prohibition on illicit drugs like cocaine and heroin has people in developing states killing each other in their quest to make a living out of an artificially high priced commodity. In fact, when I was at the exhibit a lady asked “Sinaloa, that’s in Mexico, right?” This is sad a state of affairs, but frankly why should she know or care? She has a life of her own to take care of, and she like many others in industrialized states probably think that this is a normal state of affairs in countries south of the border– Sinaloa, Mexico can easily be replaced with Medellin, Colombia, right? Below you will see more of Margolles’ work, but you will also be able to connect the drug violence with her art, because I placed several violent score-settling incidents that took place in Sinaloa at the same time that Art Basel 2008 was taking place.


Video of Teresa Margolles’ interview on “21”

Video of Margolles’ Exhibit at Art Basel 2008

Random Youtube Videos of December 2008 Score Settling Incidents in Sinaloa, Mexico while Art Basel was taking place.