Controversial art project
“Dealer Exhibition Important and Courageous”
an interview with Bettina Paul

original title: Umstrittenes Kunstprojekt “Dealer Ausstellung wichtig und mutig“
appeared on, December 2, 2017

A drug-dealer dedicated exhibition in the Berlin district’s Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg museum is highly controversial. Because they “should be free from ideological attributions”, the show explicitly omits explanations of migrants’ motivations for selling drugs. The criminologist Bettina Paul from the University of Hamburg finds the approach suitable. Ms. Paul, you are among those who support the concerns of the exhibition. Why?

Bettina Paul: I find it to be inherently important and unique, because for a long time now an effort is being made here to consider the theme rationally and unemotionally. The emotional point of view has created an image of dealers as bogeymen that has predominated unquestioned for decades. The figure of the black drug dealer is an enemy image that everyone can agree on. To attempt to break this - also racist - stereotype, is very brave. As we have seen, the makers of the exhibition are being harshly attacked publicly. How has the drug seller become what you describe as a “common enemy image”?

Bettina Paul: The dealer from Africa serves as a projection screen for fear and contempt. He is the one who brings evil in from the outside, a spectre of threat that is used to fuel fears. The migration debate only reinforces this process. So it is crucial to counteract this entirely unnuanced image of the enemy. The artist proactively underscores the existence of a real problem. It is exactly this argument that is met with massive criticism. Opponents of the exhibition claim that crooks are being made into victims. Can you not see how people would react emotionally to crime?

Bettina Paul: (she thinks for a while) Yes, but the question is what is being emotionally reacted to. The normal consumer is far away from this type of crime. He has no direct contact with it. And that’s exactly why we must ask: where does your fear come from? In your opinion, how is this “common enemy image of the drug dealer” created?

Bettina Paul: It’s been built over decades. There was a real push in the nineties, as the city began to decrease the oppression on the consumption end, while drastically heightening oppression against dealers. This dichotomy of dealer as offender and consumer as victim functions amazingly well as an enemy image, but is in no way coherent. How do you mean?

Bettina Paul: The dealer was demonized and declared a ruthless criminal, who guts drug users and drives people to their deaths. The consumer was painted as a spineless object to be exploited. It is exactly here that the exhibition is positively begins. It shows that the dealers are people who go from one place to another, without bringing up the motivation for their activities. If one were to focus on the the motivations, one would begin to search for justifications, and that would shift the view again. It is not about justifying an industry and the people who operate it, but rather about casting a rationalizing view on the topic. Like the artist Scott Holmquist, who designed the exhibition, you describe the dealer’s practice as an “activity” and “industry”. That makes it sound as if drug dealing in parks is a normal profession. Do you consider these people as criminals or not?

Bettina Paul: We make them into criminals. Because we have criminalized the selling of drugs. The dealer does not have to be a criminal. What the dealers do is a crime. Critics suggest that with the presentation of the dealers in the exhibition, a decriminalization of criminality is taking place. How do you see that?

Bettina Paul: It would be great if the exhibition initiated a debate on the subject of decriminalization, because it is a very fragile boundary that we are talking about here. There exists a need and a persistent demand for mind-expanding substances, that we indulge in legality. Alcohol, which we can acquire, is subject to quality control. That is not the case with illegally purchased drugs. This boundary has grown historically. How so?

Bettina Paul: In the beginning of the 1900’s Germany was a leader in cocaine dealing. Heroin and cocaine dealers were considered at that time to be respectable merchants. Today the country forces people to get drugs illegally. It is perfidious that consumption in itself is not criminal, but purchase is, and therefore dealers and consumers are criminalized. We must not forget: the act of drug selling is a consensual one between dealers and consumers. Meaning that you are for the legalization of drugs?

Bettina Paul: Yes. Drug prohibition creates double standards. We can get intoxicated with alcohol, cause traffic accidents, and still be protected as not responsible in front of a court. At the same time we create illegal conditions that impoverish people and put them in jail.

Original in GERMAN