“The Person behind the Dealer”
by Maria Jordan

original title: Der Mensch hinter dem Dealer
appeared in neues deutschland, November 21, 2017

Scott Holmquist on his exhibition “Other Homelands - Origins and Migration Routes of Berlin Park Drug Sellers” in the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg Museum.

In the past weeks some media and politicians have jumped on the “Bild” bandwagon, claiming that the exhibit “Other Homelands” would celebrate and heroize drug dealers. What do you say to that?

At no point does the exhibition glorify drug dealers. On the contrary, it’s very matter-of-fact and objective. One part of the exhibition attempts to convey to visitors a feel for the media’s discourse around the mythos of drug dealers. Media articles concerning the theme of drug trafficking in public space are presented for viewing, un-annotated. They should serve as a reflection of the collective societal perception of the theme. A second portion of the exhibition presents information obtained through interviews regarding the places of origin and migration routes of drug sellers in Berlin parks. There, the visitor finds entirely impartial information about the human being behind the drug dealer, his homeland, and how he, as a body, moved through space to Berlin. At the end, the visitors have the opportunity to plan a trip to the aforementioned locations via a digital travel portal. As a privileged person, one has the means to visit these places without much trouble, while those that come here from Africa do so despite adverse conditions, and then go on to live and work here under similarly adverse conditions. In this respect, the exhibition is not a glorification of drug dealers, but rather a straightforward view of people who were interviewed from a research perspective.

   Scott Holmquist is a US-American concept artist who has lived in Berlin since 2011. His artistic work is based on long term research and the building of archives. He received considerable attention in 2016 by proposing the erection of a monument for drug dealers in Berlin. He has already taken significant criticism for the opening of his new exhibit “Other Homelands”, on drug dealers in public space. Maria Jordan spoke with him for “nd”. Photo: Jochen Voos)

In the first announcement it says that the dealers perform their work “bravely”. What is meant by that?

First of all, it has to do with an artistic narrative that wants to disrupt entrenched patterns of thinking. Normally, it’s refugees who have no access to medical care, no access to work. They are people who are tolerated - and then perform an activity in public space that is being criminalized and made taboo. Nonetheless, these people must somehow make ends meet. From another side, one can see the drug sellers as doing a piece of political work. They are a symbol for the contradiction in drug politics which allows consumption but criminalizes selling. That contradiction is unavoidable, because it is the demand that creates the supply. The consumers, who are generally privileged, face no threat of prosecution. Selling, however, remains an ostracized activity in the public view.

You’ve just said that demand is created by the consumers. The FDP-politician Marcel Luthe claims that it is exactly the opposite, and that addicts are created by drug dealers. Is that like the question of “the chicken and the egg”?

At this point one has to take a step back and remember that this is an artistic, not political project, that has to do with the examination of an outlawed activity that could be considered credible work in the post-capitalist utopia. The political discussion around drug consumption should be managed in the political scene. From the point of view of the artists, intoxication is an intrinsic characteristic of human culture that can’t be easily denied or hushed up. Every culture and era has their own drugs. While alcohol is legal here, cannabis is limited. In countries in the Near East you find the opposite situation. The debate on the subject of drugs, their abuse and criminalization, is therefore that much more important.

In what way is racism the basis for this particular aversion to drug dealers?

We see that the media’s stylization of drug dealers is very closely tied to people with migratory backgrounds, or rather, people with darker skin color. The coverage, however, is always focused on dealers in public space; meaning we have a very distorted caricature of dealers. The drug dealer in public space cannot stand as a representation for all drug dealers. I would say that the majority of drug sellers are not active in public space, and also do not necessarily have migratory backgrounds or dark skin color. This extremely emotion-charged image of dealers is very closely knit with racist motivations, images, and alarming chains of argument, given that politicians gladly stylize drug dealers as people who want to poison our children. When this image is constantly associated with black people or those with migratory backgrounds, a racist association is raised that doesn’t represent reality.

Why did you decide not to broach the issue of victims of drug addiction in the exhibition? That is another reproach that the CDU faction in the district, for example, has raised.

The freedom of art should allow for the development and artistic presentation of nonconformist ideas. Here we have chosen a theme that thus far has been very seldom examined, especially in such a manner. In this respect we find the discussion and reaction that has already arisen to be very enriching, and see it as a reflection of the societal perception of the debate.

Do you think that you’ve failed to achieve your goal of rebutting the hate directed at drug sellers?

No. The exhibition hasn’t even begun (laughs). In that way no goal has been missed so far. What we want is to present the theme as an artistic production that, on the one hand, allows people to see the area of tension between the medial and the public and collective perception, but also shows that there is more behind the label “drug dealer” – namely human beings who came here from different backgrounds and with different motivations to do this work. The reactions to the exhibit are primarily speculation at this point. The misinterpretation of an artistic narrative is being politically and medially being used to represent certain interests. The museum has also had to take a lot of criticism. In doing so it offers an important and worthwhile platform for dialogue in the district, in the city of Berlin, and now in the government. For this, the museum should be praised, not criticized.

“Other Homelands”, until 1/14/18 in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg Museum, Adalbertstraße 95 A, Kreuzberg. Opening this Tuesday, 7pm.

Original in GERMAN