Photo: TICbeat

In Venezuela, the State’s cultural institutions have a fundamentally political focus. We only need to visit the Culture Ministry’s website and take a look at their activities’ schedule, promoting itself as “the anti-imperialist capital of visual arts,” meaning: Anything outside the official narrative won’t be part of the exhibition. 

Artists must follow the script or resort to private venues, a tall order because of the constant threat against dissidents.

One of the strongest pieces criticizing the chavista cultural movement comes from María Elena Ramos, author of analyses based on both study and experience. Her work, La Cultura Bajo Acoso (“Culture Under Harassment”), gives us a social and historical view of the problem.

In Venezuela, the State’s cultural institutions have a fundamentally political focus.

First, there’s self-censorship and constant persecution against intellectuals; few dare to speak because those who do get harassed. There’s no newsprint for “dissident” newspapers and radio stations are closed, but the censorship also affect writers, painters, curators and musicians who better come to an agreement with the State if they’re to keep a certain independence.

And it’s not just about private harassment; public institutions also suffer with the focus on ideology —for instance, the quality of exhibitions in museums has decreased, as they’re bound to the political script.

María Elena talks about the accomplices too, those who support State policies within their bubble of comfort, those who take advantage of their freedom in their respective countries and use their academic degrees and activism to prop up a revolution from abroad, justifying its actions, legitimizing it.

Venezuela isn’t the first country to experience this. Cultural straitjackets are one of the oldest tricks in the book (particularly for communist regimes), making it vital to raise our voices.

Consider, for example, Gerardo Alarcón, a Visual Arts graduate and dance and art of movement professor at Los Andes University.

Cultural straitjackets are one of the oldest tricks in the book (particularly for communist regimes.)

When he first started college, he could buy good quality paint, brushes and canvases to get the results he wanted, but supplies vanished from the market and he had to find new ways to work. However, he’s optimistic and passionate about his profession:

“I have the responsibility to [teach]. I feel university dropout rates in the country are too high and I understand why that happens, but it’s also a thing of ‘Who’s going to stay and defend education, values, art, culture?’ Nobody wants to because nobody wants to earn less than minimum wage for teaching. The university’s budget hasn’t been adjusted in years. Education’s the most precious gift you can give to the country, if citizens have the ability to question their world and do something about it, then we stand before free, capable people.”

But it’s not just classical arts suffering from the ruling clique. Elías Martínez, illustrator and creator of webpage Carnaval Tercermundista, an emergent artist specialised in web comics and political satire, hasn’t stopped since one of his illustrations went viral on Facebook. Born in Caracas and currently living in Santiago, Chile, he aims for a good laugh with his work, even if he’s always getting insults and complaints.

Because Elías’ criticism is raw and direct: To him, art in Venezuela is an unburied corpse.

Because Elías’ criticism is raw and direct: To him, art in Venezuela is an unburied corpse.

“I’ve known many talented artists whose dreams are frustrated because the country’s situation doesn’t allow them to work on their art as much as they’d like to. Right now, ‘Venezuelan art’ only benefits those aligned with the government and, in my experience, artists who are loyal to the government are also the most mediocre.”

He gives us, however, a message about discipline and effort: “First, leave Venezuela. Art will never flourish in an environment as hostile as the country’s current situation. Second, if you have an idea, work on it, even if it doesn’t seem good at the start. If you work on it, you’ll polish it.”

“Be fearless,” Gerardo agrees, “take a leap of faith for art, you’ll find satisfaction beyond compare. Embrace your dream and don’t give up until you’ve achieved it. You’ll soon realize that this is a lifestyle, not a goal.”

Different visions for the same situation that put reality in perspective. The context we’re living in is tough and frustrating, yes, but art and culture are vital for human and social development, and that’s probably why dictatorships fear them.

Art is resistance.

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14 COMMENTS

  1. He gives us, however, a message about discipline and effort:

    “First, leave Venezuela. Art will never flourish in an environment as hostile as the country’s current situation.”

    ——————–

    How can you not love this guy? An artist with common sense.

    There was a great quote from someone about the early “successes” of Castro’s literacy programs, and I’m heavily paraphrasing:

    “Yeah, Cuba is now a country with a greater literacy rate than ever, but with nothing worth reading because all of the great writers got the hell out.”

  2. “Embrace your dream and don’t give up until you’ve achieved it.”

    This is usually the message of every well meaning Disney show. I have strong reservations about this advice. At my age I’ve seen too many dream followers crashing against the straights of reality.

    I would propose instead to pursue the greatest good you can give to the world, even if it isn’t your dream.

  3. Even in the best of times in economically advanced and democratic countries the life of an artist is not easy and becomes a constant struggle to survive. The present situation in Venezuela is even more dire. No one cares or thinks about art or the life of an artist when they are busy looking for the basic’s of life in order to survive.

  4. Art is resistance. Education is resistance. Social media are resistance. Free press/radio are resistance. All are being controlled in Venezuela one way or another. Where else in the real world, as in last night’s TV, is the TV newscast featuring as major news the rains in different areas of the country, punctuated by typical Govt. Ministerial news of giveaways/new Plans to change/better the miserable living conditions they’ve caused through so many iterations of previous Plans?

    • “Art is resistance. Education is resistance. Social media are resistance. Free press/radio are resistance…” — not unless they are used as resistance. In fact, chavismo uses all of those for entrenchment, repression and exploitation. Re:
      http://www.cliftonross.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/miradachavez_color-01.jpg

      Any form of free speech may allow resistance if the speaker has a mind and message of resistance. Mestizos woefully lack those.

      Here’s how the leftist play-book works: Serfs desire weaker rule-of-law, institutional mass theft, something for nothing, lack of accountability and responsibility, etc. The enchufados give el pueblo some of all that to legitamize and consolidate power, then ruthlessly eliminate the competition. Then they use those same factors to steal, exploit, enslave, and destroy el pueblo.

      This creates cognitive dissonance in the mind(s) of el pueblo, further weakening them. They love the policies but slowly come to hate the results. So the implicit question becomes clear (and goes unanswered): ‘Against whom shall I fight? Myself?’ So the self-hate increases, further deepening their stasis.

  5. After thinking about this for a while, I kind of went in a different thought direction:

    The author kind of made the assumption of lumping all/most art into a political or current social commentary category, and that certainly isn’t the case.

  6. “…but art and culture are vital for human and social development, and that’s probably why dictatorships fear them.”

    Chavismo never feared culture; leftists exploit mestizo culture for power throughout LatAm. Lack of respect for others’ rights, hate towards the rule of law, envy, self-destructiveness, placing lower value on liberty and responsibility, the desire to believe convenient lies, and refusal to look past the now all allow easy (willing) co-option of el pueblo.

    The cycle will repeat endlessly with increasing brutality until and unless mestizos radically change their beloved culture.

    • So, the question becomes, which will come first, the mestizo dying of hunger/neglect, or the mestizo changing his spots (I wouldn’t bet too much on the latter)?

      • +1
        History documents that to radically change a culture, for better or worse, at least two or three generations must be completely silenced — usually by death. The USSR and PRChina are shining examples.

          • What does that mean?

            Seriously…

            Do you ever think before hitting the letters? Because that makes no sense at all.

            As usual, you’re coming across as a total idiot.

          • There’s nothing fascist about opposing tyrants wherever they appear. The marxist establishment indoctrination which prevents the “educated” slaves from seeing their own bigotry is inherently fascist and totalitarian. (Did your education reveal that the concept of fascism was just a corporate differentiator promoted by National Socialists to create a marketing difference between them and International Socialists in the minds of the proletariat?)

            Canuckle, I might be interested in hearing and considering your own ideas if I ever read them. As it is I can only hear the tired voices of those who put those words into your head. Your biased hubris prevents you from considering anything other than your indoctrination. The world has heard it a billion times — not very valuable.

            So, I’m calling you out: How do you rationalize more than 100 million murders (by marxists own count; historians say >200 million), billions enslaved, countless families destroyed, and uncountable prosperity destroyed, all well within 100 years. Please reply with something more than someone else’s talking points.

  7. In Latin America there is a traditional love affair between artists / writers / intellectuals and ‘revolutionary’ political movements and regimes …….now the tide is turned in Venezuela and you cannot find any artist writer intellectual of note being anything but militantly opposed to the regime , the very few regime defenders are seen as ideological boors and lackeys ….., dont think that art must of necessity be ‘ideologically’ engaged to fulfill its artistic call , but if one regime has done it , has made the bulk of venezuelas artists writers and intellectuals engage actively in the condemnation of its purported values and ideals , this is it !!

  8. Okay.

    With what happened in Mexico, I find this blog totally irrelevant.

    Where are the blogs about this Socialist Scumbag (SS) elected president?

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