The “Depths:” Visual Culture in the Murder Capital of the World


Sidd Joag (for the World Policy blog) writes about visual culture in Honduras and interesting new projects by groups such as Colectivo Hormigas—a consortium of arts organizations in Tegucigalpa that focuses on the reclaiming of public spaces, utilizing performance and street art. Here are excerpts with a link to the full article below:

[. . .] Strategically located on the Caribbean between the Mosquito Coast and the city of San Pedro Sula, La Ceiba is an important transfer hub for drug traffickers. From here, small airplanes, buses, and boats move narcotics along one of many pathways to the United States. Drug gangs have taken over La Ceiba, like much of Honduras, leaving desolate cityscapes of abandoned and fenced-off buildings, streets that empty at dusk, and an overwhelming climate of fear.

[. . .] The drug wars have also drastically altered the physical and psychological landscapes of communities situated along its corridors. Each community’s visual culture bears the impression of historical scars, dangerous realities, and visions for the future. In this reflective space at the convergence of the physical and psychological, the artistic process can play a key role in mediating the effects of social inequality and the distrust it creates between communities.

Amidst this hostile and chaotic environment, there are those who use the arts to affect positive change. One example is Colectivo Hormigas—a consortium of arts organizations in Tegucigalpa that focuses on the reclaiming of public spaces. Their calling cards are clusters of stenciled ants that appear in a given location where an event or action is planned.

Utilizing public performance and street art, Colectivo Hormigas, attempts to alter the visual culture of the city against all odds. Their primary objective is to empower people to wrestle control of their communities from the grip of corrupt political agendas and gang turf wars. In addition to the risks they face working in the streets, they operate with minimal funding and survive thanks to significant volunteer efforts.

As organized crime extends across borders and into every sector of society (as events such as the massacre of 43 students in Guerrero, Mexico reveal), art and culture can play a critical role in exposing its machinations. Yet artists have not established equally sophisticated networks of communication and mobility that organized crime has, and thus remain unable to successfully counteract its devastating impact on civil society.

In Honduras, it is clear artists are best suited to illuminate and confront issues affecting their communities. Facing issues of risk and sustainability has dampened the impact of initiatives like Colectivo Hormigas. It is through the arts that viable alternatives to current policies and their enforcement can be imagined, designed, and implemented, if they are provided the necessary support.

At present, the U.S. must find solutions to a growing refugee problem, with nearly 50,000 unaccompanied Honduran children, fleeing gang violence and quarantined at the border—the direct consequences of its own shortsighted policies. Until the U.S. dismantles its current War on Drugs, replaces these policies with a national program of drug regulation, and rethinks how and where it reallocates its material investment in the region, it is likely that the situation in Honduras and many other affected countries will continue to deteriorate as the death toll rises.

Change can start with an investment in the cultural vitality of America’s neighbors, and especially in artists who can articulate a collective vision of a safer, more stable future where young people can make life-affirming choices rather than risking their lives.

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