The Silk Road has connected East Asia with the West for thousands of years. Once an important trade route – for the exchange not only of goods but also of religion and cultures – today large swaths of the Road are deserted, in decay, or being used to transport drugs. For over 20 years, Robert Knoth and Antoinette de Jong followed the trails of the heroin trade from Afghanistan across Central Asia, Russia, and the Balkans, through East Africa, Dubai, and Western Europe, to where the traces finally disappear in the concrete jungle of London. Brutal gang wars, deadly addictions, illegal money laundering, unscrupulous corruption and prostitution, coupled with the epidemic spread of HIV/AIDS: the multimedia installation “Poppy” is a striking documentary revealing a dark side of globalization as reflected in the faces of smugglers, prisoners, prostitutes, border guards, children, and farmers.
In Afghanistan during the 1980s, opium and heroin were smuggled to buy weapons for the war against the Soviet occupation. In the early 1990s, the collapse of the communist regime left a bloody civil war in its wake. During the US occupation of Afghanistan following September 11, 2001, Afghan opium production increased. Today, the country is producing 90% of all opium worldwide. The sale of Afghan heroin generates 50 billion dollars in profits every year, and around 15 million people worldwide per year consume heroin from Afghanistan. The number of drug-related deaths is estimated at around 100,000 per year.
“Poppy” is a kind of kaleidoscope visualizing the chaos, violence, and opaque relations that prevail along the heroin trade route. Viewers are immersed in multi-layered parallel worlds where different events and developments overlap and interconnect. They are compelled to continually reposition themselves as they confront a flood of information and images that is at once fascinating and frightening. For the project “Poppy,” Robert Knoth and Antoinette de Jong developed an aesthetic that was capable of reflecting the complexity of the topic, experimented with non-linear narrative forms, and allowed the medium of photography to merge with other dynamic techniques such as video and multi-screen projections.
The exhibition consists of a 45-minute installation with four video projections and additional photographs and information panels. C/O Berlin is showing “Poppy” in cooperation with the Gesellschaft für Humanistische Fotografie. The project was produced by Paradox with support from the Mondriaan Fund. A catalog has been published by Hatje Cantz.
Robert Knoth, born in 1963 in Rotterdam, is an internationally renowned documentary photographer. During the 1990s, he spent time working in many crisis-torn regions of Africa, Asia, and the Balkans. In recent times, he has been focusing on long-term projects dealing with complex themes. His works have been published in newspapers and magazines such as the New York Times, the Guardian, and Spiegel and shown internationally in a number of solo exhibitions. Robert Knoth has received numerous prizes for his work, including the German Fotobuchpreis 2012; he won the World Press Award twice and the Dutch Silver Camera Award multiple times.
Antoinette de Jong, born in 1964 in Tilburg, is a photographer, writer, and broadcast journalist who lives in the Netherlands. She has worked in many conflict zones including Somalia, Iraq, and Yugoslavia. Her work includes complex reports and documentaries for broadcasters such as the BBC World Service and Radio Netherland World Service. She has reported for almost two decades on developments in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Her works have been published in numerous international newspapers and magazines.