Heroin Stamp Art Project

Published on June 09, 2010, 6:17 pm
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The Social Art Collective is proud to present Heroin Stamp Project, an exhibition focusing on the branding of heroin in New York City.

At once beautiful and unsettling, the images in the exhibit illustrate a complex narrative around public health and preventable consequences of injection drug use.

In the New York City drug trade, as in many enterprises, marketing and branding are key. Dealers distribute individual hits of heroin in glassine (a durable, translucent paper) packets, which are stamped with eye-catching insignia made up of colorful words and images. As individual branding agents, each stamp carries multiple layers of connotation. The designs tend to glorify the high (“Monster Power”), address the mortality of addiction (“Last Shot”), or draw upon pop culture references for notoriety (“Obama”). For decades, these stamps have inspired underground brand loyalties that walk a thin line between the ultimate high and the last high; signaling a drug’s potency, the most popular stamps often contain hits that trigger overdoses.

Collected from New York City streets over the course of the past five years, Heroin Stamp Project will present over 100 distinct stamped heroin packets. The exhibition is comprised of large-scale prints depicting these seductive, yet sinister symbols in startling detail. Blown up to monumental proportions, these images become confrontational, insinuating the complex nature of drug use, from the market dynamics of suppliers and dealers, to the motivation and histories behind individual users. The gritty, torn glassine edge presented in each sharply rendered image imparts a visual trace of the drug’s consumption. Each stamp’s graphic is nuanced by the confluence of highly charged words that accompany imagery or symbols assimilated from the domain of the everyday.  “Game Over” borrows from the realm of the electronic videogame; “LIFE” appropriates the visual language of mainstream magazines; and “Notorious” nods to popular music. By juxtaposing the culturally familiar with the socially taboo, these loaded images trigger questions about the public policies and stigma that shape addiction and disease. Nearly 2,000 stamps arranged to represent one user’s yearly consumption will chart a visual map of addiction on the gallery walls.

As GOOD Magazine wrote in their review of the project, “it’s a fascinating look at things one doesn’t otherwise get to see (which can make for great art), but the project also hopes to call attention to the public health issues surrounding drug use, and the associated health care costs that could be mitigated by things like clean-needle programs.”

Of all reported AIDS cases in the U.S. 25% have been transmitted through injection drug use. An estimated 75% of injection drug users are infected with Hepatitis C. The exhibit will leverage potent images to bring the health crisis among users to the public forum. Through this intimate, visual confrontation, a population that is often disregarded will have the opportunity to be humanized. Audiences are compelled to consider the problem of heroin addiction from a humanitarian and public health perspective often absent from public debate.

Heroin Stamp Project draws its funding from community and grassroots sources. The project has been made possible in part with public funds from the Manhattan Community Arts Fund, supported by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and administered by Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Significant funds were also raised through community members on the innovative startup website, Kickstarter, leveraging social networking to fund creative ideas and ambitious endeavors.

A percentage of all proceeds from the sale of the pieces will benefit the Lower East Side Harm Reduction Center (, a community based not for profit committed to serving the diverse needs of the Lower East Side with tools and resources necessary to meet the challenges posed by HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C.

Exhibit Information

June 23rd – June 29th, 2010

Press Preview, Tuesday, June 22, 2010 6 p.m. – 7 p.m.
Opening, Wednesday, June 23, 2010 7 p.m. – 10 p.m.
Viewing Hours: Weekdays 11 a.m. – 7 p.m., Sat-Sun 12 p.m. – 6 p.m.

White Box Gallery
329 Broome Street, at the Bowery
New York, NY 10002
Admission: Free

Phone: 212-714-2347, E-mail:, Web:

About the Social Art Collective
Social Art Collective seeks art as a conduit to open discussion on pressing social issues. Pedro Mateu-Gelabert, Ashly Jordan, Liza Vadnai, David Siemenski, Lisha Perez, Nestor Gonzales, and Nirah Johnson are the artists that embody the Collective, merging their artistic and professional expertise in fields such as sociology, public health and marketing. Heroin Stamp Project is being put on with assistance from Jocelyn Miller, Mike Berlin, Carol Cho and Joaquin Trujillo.

About White Box
At the beginning of its twelfth year, WBX’s mission continues to follow the core of its original mandate which is to present broad ranging contemporary art forms by innovative artists and curators whose efforts to exhibit thought-provoking, intellectually and visually challenging art is many times overlooked and, at times, question the more popular, media and market-oriented focus of other New York contemporary arts venues. WBX’s purpose sets it apart from other organizations by not exclusively focusing on artists nor is it strictly a curator-based exhibition space. In this capacity, WBX has developed a multi-purpose direction allowing it to examine and present the contemporary arts from within their culturally specific contexts while providing a forum in which, aside from the general public, youth, students and seasoned arts professionals can explore, learn and engage with new ideas.


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