The first event in the series “Habibi Goethe” focused on the difficult situation in Venezuela. Artists Malu Valerio und Diana Rangel spoke about their home country.
By Annette Walter
What does it mean if you are forced to leave a place you actually don’t want to leave? This was what happened to artist and psychologist Diana Rangel. In the first “Habibi Goethe” discussion, she told presenters Julia Ley and Julia Hägele how Barcelona had become her new home. But she found moving from Caracas to Spain difficult. “I did not go with the illusion of starting a new life. Venezuela is a wonderful country and I miss it every day.” She used to work in the favelas. “When I left, I had the feeling that I had abandoned the people there.” She wants to continue to work for Venezuela, which is why she established the project “Voices in Transit”, a platform where de-localised communities can communicate with each other. A virtual space was created in which people who had left South America and therefore sometimes felt uprooted were brought together in an online community. A map with audio messages of the participants was created, in which they spoke about their impressions of the place where they now lived.
“Venezuela gives me a lot of energy.”
Unlike Rangel, Venezuelan Malu Valerio remained in Caracas, where she works as an artist and an activist. Politics plays a large role in her work. For example, she explores the effects that the oppression in her country has on her body and her life, and often discusses this with friends. “We sometimes feel overwhelmed by the situation here.” That’s why she set up a feminist artists’ collective with several fellow campaigners. Did she ever want to leave Caracas? She nearly left in 2016, but then decided to stay. “Perhaps I’m too cowardly to leave.” It would be hard for her to leave her country. “I think that for me there isn’t really another safe place to go. Venezuela is a very harsh country; there are problems with violence, but many people are still doing amazing things – they take to the streets to fight for their rights. “Venezuela gives me a lot of energy.” She explains how her work has become more solitary owing to the corona pandemic – nevertheless she tries to cope with this as best as possible.
Former role model for the Left in Europe
Stephanie Maiwald, Director of the Goethe-Institut Venezuela, observes the developments in Venezuela with concern. “The country used to be a role model for the Left in Europe, but since the previous election, corruption and mismanagement have prevailed. The opposition is fragmented. This makes the work of non-governmental organisations very difficult.” The country also suffers from the sanctions imposed by the USA. The situation worsened owing to the coronavirus pandemic. Many public hospitals do not even have running water, which makes it impossible to comply with hygiene rules such as handwashing. However, Maiwald observes that Venezuelans react to the coronavirus crisis in a strikingly normal way: “They are used to crises.” For Maiwald, it initially felt strange to want to bring people closer to culture with her work, because they were still lacking elementary items such as food. But she discovered that she was able to use art in particular to build bridges between the divided segments of society, something that gives her hope for her future work.