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Rubén Ortiz Torres, “Chota, Cholos, and Narcos” (2020), silverleaf, urethane, lead, candy paint, and flake on decommissioned Tijuana Police car panel, 48 x 62 x 5 inches (all images courtesy the artist and Royale Projects)

LOS ANGELES — “Plata o plomo.” This phrase, credited to the famed Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, has been used to describe the recruitment tactics of the Drug Wars. “Plata” means silver and “plomo” translates to lead bullet, sending the message that compliance with the drug trade will be rewarded, while disobedience results in death. Women have increasingly been caught in the crosshairs of drug violence, with an estimated seven women killed every day in Mexico. Though Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador has positioned himself as a victim of feminist activism, women-led protests continue to demand accountability for femicide — with glitter as their weapon. The protesters call it the revolución diamantina, the glitter revolution. 

Rubén Ortiz Torres, “Glitter Protest on Door” (2020), urethane, candy paint, flake, and holographic flake on decommissioned Tijuana Police car panel,
56 x 31 x 13 inches

Installation view of Plata o plomo o glitter at Royale Projects 

The artist Rubén Ortiz Torres has named his exhibition at Royale Projects Plata o plomo o glitter, for which he gathered decommissioned patrol vehicles damaged in altercations with cartels and then encrusted them with glitter. Bullet holes are still visible on “Witness Protection Program” (2020), a cop car bathed in midnight blue, millennial pink, and lavender candy paint. Bombs of pink glitter obscure the logo of the Tijuana Police on works like “Chota, Cholos, and Narcos” (2020) and “Glitter Protest” (2020). Artifact by artifact, Torres indexes the remnants of border violence, offering them up as evidence of militarism and government control. Torres’s bilingual titles allude to the joint responsibility that the US and Mexico hold in addressing brutality at the border.  

Rubén Ortiz Torres, “Y La Culpa No Era Mía” (2020), silver leaf, candy paint, urethane, chromaluscent flake, holographic flake, and flake on aluminum panel, 52 x 114 inches

The beauty of these objects is almost disturbing. Torres’s eye-popping palettes are what initially attract us, until we begin to comprehend their critique of gender violence. We come for the colors and sparkles, but stay for the message. In other words, the art is a hook. 

In addition to honoring the protestors, the exhibition is also dedicated to murdered activist Isabel Cabañillas, who became a symbol of the Mexican femicide epidemic. By shoehorning a third option into Escobar’s ominous phrase, Plata o plomo o glitter refuses these polarized fates of border violence. Instead, Torres evokes the glitter revolution’s demand and potential for change. Glitter is invasive. It gets everywhere.

Rubén Ortiz Torres, “Pinkish Protest” (2020), urethane and chromoluscent pearl on wood panel, 12 x 12 inches

Rubén Ortiz Torres: Plata o plomo o glitter continues at Royale Projects (432 S. Alameda Street, Downtown, Los Angeles) through April 11. 

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Rosa Boshier

Rosa Boshier is a writer whose work can be found in the Guardian, Literary Hub, the Washington Post, Vice, Bitch Media, the Rumpus, and Los Angeles Review of Books, among others. She teaches at Otis College of Art and Design and is finishing...

5 replies on “Artist Encrusts Tijuana Police Cars With Glitter”

  1. This has nothing to do with the quality of this work…..It has to do with it apparently expressing the “glitter is everywhere” notion, that it invades everything.
    Odd.
    It’s been argued lately that glitter should be *completely banned* for the very obvious reason that it’s a terrible pollutant: that, being microscopic bits of plastic, it’s perfect for poisoning even the smallest aquatic creatures.
    So maybe he should have thought of that? Maybe (I can only hope) other artists wouldn’t keep using, or be inspired by him to use, such a super fucked-up material to make their art, and wouldn’t ally it with some apparently clever comment about glitter as a metaphor?

    1. This glitter is in the art and not in the ocean (none of it was disposed there). There is also lead which is toxic but it is also in the art covered with urethane. Solvents were also used and plastics (oil painters use solvents too and acrylic painters plastics). At least in this case they were used in a spray booth with special systems of filtration and everything was disposed according to the strict rules of the University of California and OSHA using fitted special masks. However your critique might apply to the feminist movements that have been throwing glitter on cops. I have read some have been using biodegradable glitter such as https://ecostardust.com

    2. This glitter is in the art and not in the ocean (none of it was disposed there). There is also lead which is toxic but it is also in the art covered with urethane. Solvents were also used and plastics (oil painters use solvents too and acrylic painters plastics). At least in this case they were used in a spray booth with special systems of filtration and everything was disposed according to the strict rules of the University of California and OSHA using fitted special masks. However your critique might apply to the feminist movements that have been throwing glitter on cops. I have read some have been using biodegradable glitter such as https://ecostardust.com

      1. Hi Ruben, I just saw this, it was in my junk mail–our Uni changed their settings recently and all sorts of things end up in there, very frustrating.
        I appreciate what you say, and that you used things within rules of UC, etc.
        If using toxic/unsustainable materials, then that’s the best approach.
        It’s just that for me, at this point in our poor planet’s life, I cringe every time I see more ways in which anti-environmental materials continue to be used.
        It’s partly because if feeds into or continues making it possible for people to accept those materials as normal.
        And many people don’t know how UNrecyclable all those “recyclable” plastics are, so they blithely continue buying iced coffee with plastic cups-lids-straws because they think it isn’t a problem.
        Sorry, I shouldn’t go on and on about this, I’m sure you’re very aware of everything I’m saying.
        This was just another case of thinking that as long as we see glitter (or urethane coating, or etc.) we’ll still assume it should exist and be used.
        But anyway, be well, be safe during this virus crisis, and best wishes,
        Su

        1. It is a complicated issue. Artists have been wanting to make their work archival and lasting. In that sense plastics are maybe too lasting. Lead exists in nature and in that sense is a normal material (just do not swallow it or make fumes with it). Some of the paintings we used like the pinks are water based and less polluting and the car industry is heading that way at least in California. Hobbyists (not to even mention artists) are not considered the problem and have not been restricted in their use of materials because their production is minimal compared to the car industry (or any other). Perhaps it would be better to stop oil and acrylic painting, analog photography, bronze casting, fiberglass, urethane, silicone and in fact any form of lasting art (somebodies valuable ruins or objects are someone else’s trash),

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