Cultura y política global / Antonio López Ortega

Culture and Global Politics

Brazil is getting ready to be the great cultural vedette in France in 2005. The Gaul country has, in effect, invited the Amazonian country to display all its cultural potential throughout the entire year: its enthralling music, its traditional arts, its powerful literature, its architectonic genius. Works unknown in France will be translated, meticulous exhibitions will be set up, gastronomic festivals, cycles of the great musical masters.

The operation goes beyond mere cultural exchange and is revealed as an intelligent political strategy. France, who in all the international forums of recent years has defended what has come to be called cultural exception—in short: the privileged treatment that cultural goods must be afforded in all commercial exchanges—sees in Brazil a beneficient ally. It admires its continental size, shares its historical rivalry with the United States, recognizes its Latin American leadership and, for the sake of the average French citizen, provides exactly what Valéry Larbaud called the note exotique: Carioca mulattas and capoeira dance delighting the senses of Parisians.

In a parallel situation, thriving China prepares to receive France in all of its cultural splendor during the year that has just begun.Not only will the iconography of the XVIII and XIX centuries, such as pieces by Débussy and Ravel, fill the museums and theaters of Beijing, but so will contemporary dance, including les sons et lumieres de JeanMichel Jarré and an urban cultural phenomenon which the French already defend as their own: hip-hop. Nor is the endeavor innocent: it prefaces France's formal entry into what will be the fastest growing market of the XXI century.

Culture has value as a political tool and as a space for economic exchange. This is being understood by the great countries and the great economies. On a closer scale, Guadalajara's Festival del Libro is the most important center on the continent for the purchase of book rights and Guanajuato's Festival de Teatro doubles the income compared to expenses for that beautiful city. Each year Bogota strengthens its Feria del Libro—completely funded by the Colombian Chamber of Books—and Buenos Aires defends its own as the required yearly date for editors and writers in the southern cone. Miami's Museum of Modern Art, with an intelligent acquisition strategy, plans to have the most important collection of Latin American art within 10 years, while the Bienal de Sao Paulo continues to be the continent's plastic arts reference point.

Facing this overwhelming and changing landscape, Venezuela seems to have no reaction. Far from it, the plastic presence of Venezuelan artists and a certain status gained by some writers are truly deteriorating. Only the movement of youth orchestras has been able to attach itself to international relations, thanks to the acuity of the masterful José Antonio Abreu. In times of endogenous discourse and governmental visions that bring us back to the most chaste of nationalisms, the projection of Venezuelan culture is not included within State policy. The fact that the universality of an artist like Gego is being recognized by international critics or that the great Armando Reverón has been taken up by New York's MoMA for 2007 are actions that have not been generated by the State. Surprisingly, despite their human penury, artists have staked out their own name through the value of their work and through their intellectual rigor: Mexico acknowledges Eugenio Montejo's great work with the Premio Octavio Paz and the city of Leipzig acknowledges Álvaro Sotillo's graphic trajectory.

Where is Venezuela's great cultural potential? Where is the great design, the splendor of our composers and music, the thriving originality of our plastic arts, the mystery of our producers of folk art, our great poetry? Well, they're waiting for an articulate, unleashing, new vision, capable of offering intelligible images.

France enters its international relations hand in hand with culture when we, if at all, show up with oil barrels. Crafted material on the one hand and prime—primitive?—material on the other. The cycle repeats itself for years now while no public vision seems to notice our discouragement. Beyond making an inventory of flora and fauna—a reflection that we've been dragging along since the Chroniclers of the Indies—,we need to acknowledge our being's existence. And in that mine field, no one is more skilled than our artists.

The public, governmental visions will continue to be poor and they'll continue to be divorced from our finest intellect. We'll remain in the hands of clumsy ambassadors, cultural attaches who add nothing, relegating culture to the very last spot, without a State policy that reflects a vision of the world. But, parallel to this situation, our artists will continue to talk about the real country, to show its vicissitudes, its deeds and what's missing, leaving a lasting trace that will be rescued at some point in the future.

As a closing parabola, an important Venezuelan poet recently asked himself: "What's the difference between a Mexican and a Venezuelan writer?" The poet remained silent, thinking for a few seconds, finally answering: "The difference is that when a Mexican writer walks, the country follows behind him."

{ Antonio López Ortega, El Nacional, 11 January 2005 }

No comments: