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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.
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.
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.