New art show 'glamorises' drug culture

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The Independent Online

A controversial photographic exhibition and auction, featuring iconic images associated with illegal drug-taking, opens next month amid accusations that it glamorises addiction.

A controversial photographic exhibition and auction, featuring iconic images associated with illegal drug-taking, opens next month amid accusations that it glamorises addiction.

Included is a much-published shot of Marianne Faithfull and Mick Jagger leaving court after his conviction for marijuana possession in 1967, a case that prompted The Times to question the severity of the sentence in an editorial headlined "Who breaks a butterfly on a wheel?"

The Thin Lines, White Lies exhibition opens online on 6 November and will be seen on 11 November by influential guests and celebrities at a viewing in Soho, central London, at which DrugScope, the organisers, will invite a private audience to outdo online bids for iconic images. These will include a pictures of former cocaine-user Daniella Westbrook, showing her missing septum, and of John Lennon and Yoko Ono after receiving a drug conviction.

DrugScope, the leading drugs education charity, said the aim was to show pictures of rock stars and other celebrities alongside hard-hitting images of ordinary people, including a pregnant woman shooting up and dealers selling drugs from a pram, in an attempt to "provoke debate".

Martin Barnes, its chief executive, defended the exhibition and sale which he said challenged the "celebrity glitter" view of drugs. He also said it was more effective to educate people about the risks of drug use than to send alarmist messages that young people know are not true. "We are not about wagging a finger and saying 'don't take drugs', but saying, if you take them these are the risks involved."

Critics, however, say some of the images to invite online bids could reinforce the stereotype that drugs equal glamour while also appearing to support legalisation. The National Drug Prevention Alliance said most people occupied a "middle ground" on drug prevention, but Peter Stoker, a spokesman, said: " I think that people should view this exhibition with scepticism if not cynicism. Images can rebound - the Home Office was inundated with requests for copies of the young man shooting up for the 'Heroin Screws You Up' campaign. It's glamorous to see John and Yoko outside a court."

DrugScope, which helped to draft government guidance for drug education in schools, is among organisations that have backed calls to reclassify ecstasy from class A to class B.

Earlier this year, David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, reclassified cannabis to a class C drug, a move that had earlier prompted Keith Hellawell, the drugs tsar, to resign.

Mr Hellawell said yesterday that ministers had "turned their backs" on the issue of drug abuse. He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "What we are seeing is that drugs have gone off the radar of the Labour government. They came in in '97 with this as part of their manifesto," he said. "Now you never hear anything about it.

"It is as if they are turning their back on it, closing their eyes to it, believing that perhaps it will go away, but it doesn't."

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