Nan Goldin, the photographer of AIDS and the opioid crisis that has conquered Venice

Nearly 200 people die every day from OxyContin abuse. Although in Spain the name of this medicine is not very popular, In the United States, this opioid has caused a crisis that has led to more than 200,000 deaths. A drug prescribed by doctors for any pain, from tendinitis to childbirth, and that creates a high dependence on patients. Many of them end up hooked on other types of cheaper drugs or easy to find, like heroin. But this time, the working middle class is the type of population hardest hit by this addiction.

Behind this epidemic, there is a proper name: that of the Sackler family, whose pharmacist, Purdue Pharma, was the one that launched OxyContin on the market in 1995, which is almost three times stronger than morphine. It quickly became the most common medicine in doctors' prescriptions for painkillers, despite the fact that its highly addictive capacity was already known. They achieved it thanks to a million-dollar marketing campaign, and also by paying trips and bribes to doctors, as revealed by an investigation by the American Journal of Public Health. It reported that between August 2013 and December 2015, various pharmaceutical companies, including Purdue Pharma, paid more than $46 million to more than 68,000 doctors in the form of meals, travel and gifts to prescribe opioids. The result is that the Sackler family has become one of the richest in the US, with an estimated fortune of more than 13,000 million dollars.

Among the thousands of victims of the Sackler medical empire was the photographer Nan Goldin. Tendonitis in her left wrist brought her to the doctor, where she was prescribed OxyContin. Although she took the prescribed dose of pills, she soon became addicted to them. From the initial 40 milligrams of hers, she went on to consume 450. She even crushed them to snort them. When she couldn't get the medicine, she bought other drugs on the street. "My dealer came 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I was one of her best clients. She texted me when I was in rehab saying she was on sale," Goldin said. in an interview in The Guardian published in elDiario.es

This heroine, tireless activist and one of the fundamental artists of the New York counterculture, is the absolute protagonist of the documentary All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, which just won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. She has done it over big productions, loaded with dollars and ego. None has moved the jury and the public as much as the story of Goldin and his fight against the Sacklers. Goldin never had any doubts that behind that surname were the culprits of so many deaths.

After rehab, Goldin got organized, founded the PAIN group, and began his crusade against the pharmaceutical bosses. His goal was clear: tell who the Sacklers really are, a family that donates millions of dollars to art institutions around the world. It is the surname that can be seen at the entrance of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London or in the Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of New York that bears his name; or at the Sackler Center for Art Education at the Guggenheim in New York. A facelift in the form of philanthropy that Goldin and his army of victims uncovered with performances and actions in museums, where prescriptions and bottles of OxyContin appeared and were thrown away shouting "Sacklers lie, people die" (the Sacklers lie, people go dead). Last year, the MET removed his name from the room. It was Goldin's first major victory.

If All the Beauty and the Bloodshed works, it's because its director—Oscar-winning Laura Poitras for CitizenFour—manages to draw an arc that links the current opioid crisis with the years of AIDS and heroin in New York. Nan Goldin experienced both epidemics firsthand. In the first she lost many friends. In the second, it was she who fell. Goldin already had to enter a detoxification clinic in the late 1980s. Upon his return, although he devoted himself more to fashion photography, one of his most powerful images was made for a New York Times report on life of a 15-year-old addict.

The activism of Goldin, born in Washington in 1953, appears from her first steps. After her sister's suicide, she ran away from home at the age of 14. When she was 15, she already started photography and at the end of the 70s she became one of the fundamental elements of the counterculture in Manhattan. It was the explosion of punk and she, with her camera, did not hesitate to portray everything, turning the intimate into the political. Her idea was to capture the sentimental and sexual life of those environments. What he also achieved is capturing the beginnings of the queer movement, the life of trans women, of the drag queens of the most alternative venues, and also the arrival and spread of AIDS among those communities, something that is reflected in his most well-known The Ballad of Sexual Dependence (title taken from an opera by Kurt Weill with a libretto by Bertolt Brecht), which shows his photographs in the form of a film. A topic that she later touches on with Balada en la morgue.

The titles of his photographic projects are precisely those that structure Poitras' documentary. She herself was placed as an active subject and activist of her own works. In The ballad of sexual dependency she did not hesitate to show the face of her partner moments before he beat her up. The following image is her face with a completely black eye after receiving it. Toxic relationships would mark her life since, in the mid-90s, she was far from alternative movements and consecrated as an artist in New York, she relapsed into drugs when she began a relationship with a heroin addict. She goes back to detox and this time, photography. The result is the devastating Relapse/Detox Grid, 1998-2000. Even in her dalliances with her fashion, the photographs of her are political, as in the shoot she did for the Matsuda house, where she places non-canon bodies and a large number of drag queens in the images she was commissioned for. .

She herself never hesitates to put the adjective 'political' to her photographs, as she did in an interview with Adam Mazur and Paulina Skirgajllo-Krajewska in which she makes it clear that the photographs saved her life: "Every time I've been through a traumatic moment I have survived by taking pictures". Photographs that show many people dead from AIDS or drugs, but which she believes are a statement about "memory." "My photographs are not about people dying, but about the lives of individuals and how in New York the freest and most creative souls died. They died of AIDS," she says.

That union of activism and art is closed with this Golden Lion. In Venice, Goldin herself explained that the issues that interest her could be defined as "stigmas" in society, and her goal is always the same: "To get people to that suffer from these problems manage to talk about them and be heard. There are still 10 million people in the world with AIDS. The stigma and phobia against AIDS killed many people, my community. I will not allow another community To die".

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