Days of the Dead

The new narcocultura. Osiel Cárdenas, who is now awaiting trial in the United States; the Holy Death cult draws devotees from the drug trade.

  • Editors' Pick
  1. Last May, an exhibit sponsored by the government of the Mexican state of Sinaloa compelled civic leaders in Culiacán, the capital, to denounce the artist Rosa María Robles and demand that the show be closed down. Comments left in the visitors’ book weren’t as harsh. After wandering aghast through installations that featured bloodied toilets and suspended children’s outfits pierced by dried cow tongues or long, knobby rubber penises, viewers wrote things like “It gave me nausea, but it made me think” and “This was very hard; it made me want to cry.” A few even thanked Robles for the exhibit.

    Sometimes a black boot was displayed in the act of shattering an ostrich egg. Not every viewer may have understood that this was the artist’s way of critiquing the macho narcotraficante culture of her native state, which has brought with it uncounted acts of violence, including hundreds of murders each year. But many did understand: people in Sinaloa know that los narcos actually wear those absurd boots—most fashionably made of ostrich leather—and in these hard times every day brings news of more lives they have shattered. And even a clueless outsider could grasp the meaning of the exhibit’s most controversial and memorable installation, referred to in the catalogue as “Red Carpet.” It was pieced together from the heavy woollen blankets typical of the Sinaloa mountain region, which, in the exhibit, were stiff with dried blood. Everyone in Sinaloa knows by now that in the wave of drug-rel...