Cultura contra la muerte / Antonio López Ortega

Culture Against Death

Each time I hear a waltz by Antonio Lauro, immersed in the mysteries of its sonorous depths, I feel that this is where the most important Venezuelan contribution to universal music is to be found. With good reason the Australian guitarist John Williams, who knew his universal repertoire, praised his unique pieces as moments of transcendence.

The great Jesús Soto, in a confession to José Balza, recalled that his optical art had been born on the shores of the Orinoco river, where he would rest in the afternoons to watch the glimmers of the sunset on the water’s ripples: who knows if the genesis of kinetic art could have been that chromatic vibration. Rufino Blanco Fombona, a notable prisoner of General Juan Vicente Gómez, wrote the first literary diary of our tradition while he was in prison.

And we are also indebted to Rufino, according to the testimony of Ángel Rama, because the Biblioteca Ayacucho publishing house was a reinvention of the Biblioteca Americana project that the Caracas-born writer conceived during his years in Madrid. The choreography “Jungle,” presented in the 1970s by the dance troupe Danzahoy, inscribed us in the world currents of contemporary dance. The Brazilian curators who visited us in the 1980s recognized the Caracas Museum of Contemporary Art as the most important of its kind in Latin America.

Our graphic designers produced the most important logos and posters, receiving awards in Poland, but also the best editions, receiving awards in Leipzig. There was a time when the National Center for the Book recognized with its prizes the best efforts of the nation’s graphic design industry, including alternative initiatives. In 1993 Venezuela was the invited country at the Guadalajara International Book Fair, an honor we have not deserved again.

Our photography attained an unequaled splendor starting in the 1970s, with true international exposure. Our visual arts, sheltered by a solid network of museums, mastered all the contemporary discourses and, undoubtedly, managed to be at the head of the continent’s proposal in the plastic arts. In the 1960s Venezuela established the state-funded publishing house Monte Ávila Editores and the Rómulo Gallegos International Novel Prize, institutional platforms that welcomed, first, a good portion of exiles from Spain and, second, the intellectual diaspora from South America that was fleeing dictatorships. That welcoming gesture, perhaps only with the exception of Mexico, always open, has not been repeated in recent years.

It’s good to remember these cultural acts, that are essentially national, in order to counterpose them to the mediocrity of our politics, the baseness of our leadership and the corruption of the language through which the highest authorities speak to us. In general terms, the country has never been up to the level of its creators and, yet, they have given everything for the country. That forgetting and abandonment has been more lacerating in recent times, because if before we were condemned by our careers —what public role could a poet play?, any leader would ask himself—, now we’re condemned by positions or credos.

A true cultural apartheid divides the creative field into critics and supporters. And we already know what the critical position entails as a consequence: ostracism in the face of any public funds. If, despite everything, our creators survive with admirable health, this is because public indifference is already a part of our genetic condition.

During times when the smell of death, of the republic’s dissolution, of national crisis, is to be found everywhere, it’s good to pay close attention to the voice of our creators, who have never made distinctions of any kind and much less discriminated against the acts or gestures of our people. Facing the death of meaning, of the conditions for citizenship, now and always, culture and more culture. Or spoken much more eloquently in the verses of the great singer José del Pilar Rivera: “If I happen to be dying / and they come looking for me / to sing no matter what / I’ll abandon Death and be going.”

Translator’s Note: The original verses by José del Pilar Rivera are: “Si yo muriéndome estoy / y me vienen a buscar / como sea para cantar / dejo la Muerte y me voy”

{ Antonio López Ortega, El Nacional, 2 January 2014 }

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