The Museum of Drug Policy Wants You to Speak Your Truth
The immersive, three-day art exhibition looks at the impact of current global drug policies
All images courtesy of The Museum of Drug Policy
As soon as you enter the Museum of Drug Policy, you are met with the human toll of the War on Drugs. Hanging from the ceiling in elegiac criss-cross are pañuelos, the Mexican tradition of using handkerchiefs as canvas. Embroidered by hand, each tells the individual story of a soul killed or disappeared from the drug war. Most are at a somber still. Some billow softly, prayer flags for the dead.
Everyone has a story. We have all been scathed in varying degrees by addiction and the criminalization of addiction. The Museum of Drug Policy—a pop-up cultural hub, open through April 21—aims to gather those stories in an experiential exchange of ideas, images, and possible solutions. Taking over a 16,000 square-foot raw space on Park Avenue for three days during the United Nations General Assembly’s Special Session (UNGASS) on the world drug problem, the unprecedented exhibition features more than 70 works from different artists from around the globe.
“This is for the people,” says the Museum’s co-organizer and long-time drug policy reform advocate Michael Skolnik. “For the people to come and hang out. To have conversation, moments of discovery, and moments of respect with each other.”
Fine art mingles with interactive installations. There is the marrying of the didactic—projections of stats and figures—with impactful cultural elements. “It is like a bringing together of the [policy] wonks and the artists,” says Skolnik.
Artist Hank Willis Thomas and Baz Dreisinger, a professor at John Jay College, have created a site-specific installation of letters from prisoners all over the world. The handwritten notes from the inside cover the walls and floor, surrounding a life-sized replica of a U.S. solitary confinement cell.
Zefrey Throwell’s homage to his dad will halt you in your tracks. The artist has memorialized his father, who died a decade ago from a drug overdose, through a series of silk-screened portraits made from a combination of his own ashes and crystal meth.
After experiencing the bulk of the Museum, attendees are invited inside the “Truth Booth,” a 24-foot wide inflatable speech bubble, to record a video—a confessional of sorts, a place to tell your truth. “Whether you yourself are an addict, have lost someone you know or are a policy maker,” says Skolnik, “everyone is invited in to share their truth and relationship with drugs.”
Even in a massive space brimming with poignancy, Jesse Krimes‘ hanging installation is particularly resounding. Created while incarcerated for six years on a drug charge, the work is an haunting collage of images transferred out of The New York Times. Krimes explains his process: “I would go through and cut out images that I connected to and then use hair gel and a plastic spoon to transfer them on to prison bedsheets. I did this over three years. Each piece I had to mail out separately, one by one. So, I could never actually see the whole piece together.” This presentation marks the first time the 15×40 foot work has been shown in public in its totality.
The Museum of Drug Policy, which is supported by Open Society Foundations, rounds out its offerings with a bevy of lunchtime panel discussions, a screening of Matthew Heineman’s Oscar-nominated documentary Carteland, Russell Simmons and Angie Martinez hosting a night of spoken word, and additional programming.
“I mean, this isn’t the definitive museum on drug policy,” says Skolnik. “It’s a work in progress. Just as this actual space is under construction, the Museum is under construction, these drug policies are under construction. And, if someone has more art that they want to contribute to the conversation, bring it. We have walls.”
Taking place at 245 Park Avenue in New York City, the event is free and open to the public. Scoop up tickets here.