Wilson Díaz’s work on the Coca plant has consisted of a long process of investigation on the plant as an aesthetic object as well as a sustained examination of its multiple meanings throughout the histories of the Americas. By means of multiple registers and forms, Díaz highlights the plant’s uses, political manipulations, and its incessant exploitation on the part of drug traffickers in the production and commercialization of cocaine.
The illicit drug trade has resulted in numerous social transformations, such as the criminalization of particular cultural practices and the association of the plant with violent contexts. One more than one occasion, it has been identified as an unrivaled cause rather than as an effect of the market.
Through simple formal elements, the artist makes visible and documents the tensions, conflicts, and power relations that condense around the coca plant through a variety of representational strategies. These include images of the plant itself or of related situations (allusions to so-called “mulas” by swallowing seeds so that they can later be expelled after crossing a border border), drawings of art critics made with charcoal made from the plant, and the photographs of family gardens with perfectly manicured Coca plant hedges in middle class neighborhoods in Cali, Colombia. He also utilizes videos recorded in the so-called demilitarized zone—one of the musical groups of the FARC, “Los Rebeldes del Sur,” and the other of two young guerrillas bathing in a brook in one of the most conflict-ridden regions of the country, where the cultivation of the plant is widespread—in order to visualize the landscape and the subjects produced from the greenness of its chlorophyll. Taken together, these various works reveal that sinister quality of that which is familiar, and also make visible the struggles over the plant’s meanings and related cultural practices in relation to the interests of the market.
Common or popular name: Coca
Scientific or Latin name: Erythoroxylum coca
Native: On the Western Andean slopes of Chile, Ecuador, Perú, and Bolivia, between 300 and 600 meters of altitude.
Currently, the cultivated area is greater, spreading out to the wide areas of Colombia.
Medicinal part: The leaves.
Bushes grow up to 1.5 meters in height, and even more in the wild.
Digestive lethargy and poor digestion (an infusion of coca leaves).
Pain (painkillers and sedatives).
Diseases of the digestive tract, stomach pains, cramps, indigestion, and diarrhea.
Precautions with this plant:
Because it is considered a drug, the therapeutic use of Coca leaves is prohibited except in producing countries. The fact that it has been on the United Nation’s list of prohibited substances since the 1960s has severely limited its trade for therapeutic purposes at an international level, while at the same time, its greater by-product, cocaine, circulates unlawfully through illicit networks across the world.