Rehearsing the National Posture

The series Ensayando la postura nacional (Rehearsing the National Posture) draws a parallel between the right-wing regime of the Venezuelan dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez in the 1950s and the left-wing Chavist autocracy which has been governing the country since 1999.

The nostalgia for the independentism movement of the early-nineteenth century and the glorification of national heroes were equally central to the development of Pérez Jiménez’s so-called “National Ideology” as well as to the “Bolivarian” agenda of Chavism. On one hand, for both dictatorial regimes, the epic of the armed struggle for independence serves as the ideological underpinning of a militarist state and, on the other, the forced transfer of power from the white European-origin colonial elite to a new power wielded by mestizo individuals from the lowest social strata—which defines and shapes Venezuelan society today—is used as justification for armed struggle and the anti-democratic usurpation of power.

Though ideologically opposed, both military-leaning political projects share the same thought structure in which national heroes and the racial discourse associated with the dominant political classes are coalesced into a single message loaded with references to the nineteenth-century mythology of independentism as well as to magical and religious aspects.

Democracy arrived to the country with the fall of Pérez Jiménez’s regime in 1958, and lasted throughout the following forty years. This period tried to exorcize the ghosts of military coup d’états and the discourse of a racially segregated society, instead promulgating a more egalitarian system based on civil power, in which the democratic discourse would be the State’s central axis. However, it also spawned a clientelist relationship between the various social actors and political leaders that eventually conditioned the whole relationship between society and the State.


In contrast, the series Los Partidos Políticos Desaparecidos (Disappeared Political Parties) explores the relationship between politics and avant-garde art movements. In the Venezuelan party political system, each party was represented by colourful emblems printed on rectangular presidential voting cards. The mission of these brightly coloured bold designs was to identify each individual party quickly and easily, especially aimed at the least literate sectors of the population. These striking designs, however, unintentionally reflected the influence of the visual vocabulary of the abstract constructivist art which had been associated in the collective imaginary with ideas of modernism, progress and development ever since the 1950s.

Although abstract constructivist art was evidently identified with upper social classes—particularly from the more enlightened and influential realms of culture and high finances—its playfulness and contrasting palette also held a certain fascination for more popular sectors of society, who, without fully grasping the concepts associated with this kind of art, did identify with its forms and colour, and also its novelty and modernism. Geometric abstraction was an innovative proposal that contrasted with the figurative art of the period, which was closely allied to Social Realism and more in tune with the ideas of Mexican Muralism, whose direct link with traditional arts and crafts forged a greater identification among less favoured and progressive sectors. And so, many of the social and political tensions in Venezuela during the so-called democratic period (1958-1999) were, in one way or another, reflected in the confrontation between the diametrically opposed artistic notions of figuration and geometric abstraction.

From the early-sixties up until the late-nineties, kinetic art, generally ascribed within geometric abstraction, was sanctioned as the country’s “official” type of art and was used in many of the most emblematic public buildings and monuments of the period. It was developed within Venezuela in parallel with a perverse clientelist system between political parties and broader society. A system that ostensibly wished to build a fair and democratic society, based on economic development and universal access to education and healthcare. However, the proposal was fraught with internal contradictions and unresolved historical tensions beneath the surface that slowly eroded the very structure of the State and Venezuelan society.

Finally, during the nineties, the growing level of corruption —rooted in the seventies’ oil boom— proved to be the death knell for the democratic system of alternating political parties, and the nineties saw the rise of disruptive discourses, like the movement led by Hugo Chávez, based on a series of ideas imbued with militarist sentiments and accompanied by fiery rhetoric that stoked racial hatred.

During the early years of Chávez’s government, many public kinetic artworks were abandoned and often destroyed because they were closely associated with democratic discourses and values. Having said that, in recent years and often as a result of social pressure, some iconic works have been recovered and restored.

Today the public art that proliferates thanks to the resources of the Venezuelan “petro-state” is generally figurative, collectivist and its main virtue is to represent the ideology and agenda of an authoritarian regime. This public art is used as a tool for ideological indoctrination and embodies the political and social aspirations of the current regime in a confusing amalgam of decontextualized fragments of nationalistic history that whets racial confrontation. An “official” art that awakens ghosts and tensions lying beneath the surface of the collective subconscious of Venezuelans which have gone unresolved for a long time.

And so, public art, whether geometric abstract or figurative, is a silent witness of—physical and imaginary—spaces which have been conquered, supplanted or abandoned by political powerholders.