Venezuelan Activists Choose Art, Not War

jazz singer on grunge background

Following the 2013 death of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, the Latin American country has been rocked by conflict between right-wing politicians and the revolutionary activists and workers who support Chavez’s lefist Bolivarian movement. To further their cause, some of these activists have taken to the nation’s streets and neighborhoods to spread word of their political goals. But while the events of recent years, from the Arab Spring uprising to the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong, might suggest that this mission would turn violent, these revolutionaries have chosen to focus on creation over destruction: many are choosing to use street art as a way to communicate and catalyze their movement.

One of the major conflicts between the opposing political groups in Venezuela is a battle over culture and public space. But while other organizations might try to use billboards and fliers, the leftists are literally claiming ownership of different neighborhoods and streets. One of the most popular groups, Comando Creativo, is composed entirely of young artists, and the collective specializes in developing communication campaigns through graffiti, stencils, and visual arts. They also offer workshops to Communal Councils in numerous Venezuelan communities, to further discuss the issues that matter in their neighborhoods with the people who live in them.

Political messages aside, however, the murals Comando Creativo has created throughout Caracas and other cities are simply astonishing: in one, an alligator suns itself across the length of a building’s wall, recalling a story Chavez used to tell about seeing one of the giant reptiles near the Arauca River. Others depict famous Latino leaders, such as Che Guevara, Simon Bolivar, and of course, Chavez. Members of Comando Creativo have explained that a lack of resources has encouraged their inventiveness, helping them to take advantage of the few seconds of attention their campaign will likely draw from a passerby.

Comando Creativo reports that it works closely with local neighborhoods and communities in choosing the subject of their murals and the direction of the group’s political actions. This isn’t surprising, especially when you consider that there are similar partnerships in the United States: homeowners associations, for example, typically work to provide residents with shared neighborhood values and decreased ownership responsibility, improving an area’s safety and function as a result. At least one member of Comando Creativo has speculated that Venezuela had a unique opportunity to create an artistic political campaign from working with community organizations. However, the same artist pointed out that there were conditions elsewhere that could allow revolutionaries to transform their countries in a similar manner.

Currently, several other Latin American countries are also experiencing a similar artistic campaigns and projects to promote leftist aims. For example, Bolivia recently experienced a victory when citizens voted to re-elect President Evo Morales, the former leader of the cocoa farmer’s union. Morales’s party, Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), attracted a number of young revolutionaries and artists. However, despite the prevalence of their artistic campaigns, a similar win for Venezuela’s revolutionaries has yet to be achieved: in addition to a number of protests throughout the country, a number of leftist blogs have claimed that their politicians have been murdered and arrested. In this dangerous time, the rest of the world can only watch and hope that Venezuelans continue to band each other to ensure their safety.

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