Creación y sombras / Antonio López Ortega

Creation and Shadows

                                            [Eugenio Montejo, 2007, by Gorka Lejarcegi]

An essential 20th century Venezuelan poet, Eugenio Montejo, died in June of 2008. Very few friends went to his wake in a dilapidated funeral home in downtown Valencia, a city in which he grew up, studied and cofounded the legendary magazine Poesía, for many years a reference in the creation and dissemination of poetry throughout the Latin American continent. Montejo had also been, in the last stage of his life, a functionary with the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry, where he not only directed with the novelist Elisa Lerner the magazine Venezuela, a type of cultural display window for the country, but he also took on with accreditation the task of being a cultural consul in Lisbon. From there he dedicated himself to disseminating Venezuelan literature in Portugal and Portuguese literature in Venezuela. Portuguese emigration to Venezuela during the first half of the 20th century, which many estimate to be approximately half a million inhabitants, spoke of unbreakable ties and presupposed a great deal of exchange programming. However, the sleeplessness of an intelligent and faithful functionary wasn’t enough, nor was the National Prize in Literature conferred in 1998 or the Octavio Paz International Poetry Prize he was awarded in 2005, for the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry or the government that proclaims itself as Bolivarian to send a flower wreath or to even publish a brief obituary in the national press. Those glories, it’s understood, didn’t belong to them, and so the only they saw in the Valencia funeral home was an unburied corpse.

This behavior is repeated almost exactly with other great writers. Neither the novelist Salvador Garmendia (1928-2001), perhaps the most important of the last five decades; nor the fiction writer Adriano González León (1931-2008), awarded the Biblioteca Breve Prize in 1968 in Spain for his novel País portátil; nor the poet Juan Sánchez Peláez (1922-2003), an avant-garde voice par excellence; none of them deserved a single tribute, mention or gesture. For them there was only ignorance, a blemish, non-existence. These are the actions of those who in school textbooks make a capricious selection of historical episodes or who when recounting political history suppress everything that has to do with the democratic period between 1958-1998. In the sphere of culture, moreover, the omissions are embarrassing. No intellectual who has made any critical pronouncement, who has signed any manifesto of denunciation or who in an interview has expressed some type of discontent, has any right to anything: no invitations, fellowships or acknowledgments. Those privileges are reserved only for the faithful, in other words, for those who’ve ended up remaining silent, betraying their old codes and, in some cases, writing praises for the “Eternal Commander.”

Venezuelan artists in these times have finally understood the chessboard where they must or can move. And in that game they know the State doesn’t exist, that nothing can be expected from any cultural policy. They’ve only gained one advantage from this injustice, so as to not call it a disgrace: they’ve become more persistent, more obsessive and even more professional. When survival is threatened, energies emerge from unknown places, but they emerge. It doesn’t matter if there’s nowhere to publish, if the national museums no longer open their doors or if the billboards of the theaters have become banal. In the end one creates for another present, one that is by force alternative, or maybe for the future, when the country or the audiences might be different. Beyond the artists the country has expelled, who also exist, there’s a type of secret diaspora of those who remain in Venezuela and protect themselves from all the plagues: ostracism, isolation, skepticism or self-censorship. The hour invites us to band together in groups, to meet up, to unite our wills, and all initiatives are welcomed, no matter how insignificant they might seem. The only consolation, or the only truth, that floats above these sometimes invisible initiatives is that, when from a possible future someone looks back at these ill-fated hours, they might discover that only the artists of this lock-up will have written the best essays, the best poetry collections; they will have conceived the best works of visual art, the best installations; they will have composed the best plays, the best choreographies. Artistic truth is in the shadows and not in the bureaucratic and even militaristic pomp the Venezuelan government wants to sell as cultural goods.

Any cultural politics that considers itself modern should always guarantee spaces for creation, which are sometimes mysterious and even fragile. Nascent artistic vocations are always uncertain and can make a developing poet waste his talent in other affairs. Who enters that world of fragilities and assures that the artistic condition won’t lose a great voice? Who influences that moment of decisions and avoids major frustrations? We’ve existed very far from these, you might call them exquisite, ruminations but other realities and purposes have understood quite well there’s nothing like pure and free creation for social transformations. This has been understood, even unconsciously, by artists working with very few rudiments and forgotten by any sign of cultural politics in Venezuela.

Maybe the flower wreaths that Eugenio Montejo deserved will arrive in the future. They actually exist in the voices and hearts of his heirs, the young people who read him with fruition and don’t stop admiring his verses. Not every era knows how to recognize its own children and the one that governs us now ignores them all.

{ Antonio López Ortega, El País, 28 February 2015 }

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