Protesters hold letters to build a banner that reads, “Those who kill in reality have not lived,” during a rally against Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro’s government in Caracas, on June 8. Photo: Ivan Alvarado/Reuters

Artists Rally Against Venezuelan President in New Wave of Anti-Government Protests

While artists and demonstrators opposed to Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro have been protesting for months, the mounting death toll—more than seventy people have been killed since April with thousands more injured—has led artists in Caracas, the country’s capital, to organize more peaceful acts of resistance.

According to Corina Pons of Reuters, cultural figures ranging from art historians to film directors have been secretly meeting in bookstores and other discreet locations since May in order to strategize about alternative ways to demonstrate.

“We don’t want to confront passersby but to encourage reflection,” said forty-six-year-old designer Teresa Mulet, who recently joined a flash protest on a boulevard in Caracas. The action involved two-dozen people who lay down on the ground before jumping up with signs that spelled out a phrase from a Venezuelan poem that read: “Those who kill in reality have not lived.”

Other recent actions include protesters who unfurled an eighty-two-foot-long work made from more than three thousand bolívar currency notes, which are each worth less than $1, as they denounced the country’s inflation crisis, and impromptu exhibitions that are being held in public squares.

Maythe Arrieta, the director of a Manifiesta Street exhibition, which featured the work of more than forty-five photographers, sculptors, and visual artists who strive to capture the daily clashes between people and authorities in their art, said, “This is a nonviolent, creative way to protest, in order to avoid confrontation and more deaths. . . .From people who sing, to those who draw, there are people like me who turn their talent into a form of protest.”

Ramirez added that the outdoor shows are a way for people to participate in the action without having to fear being sprayed by tear gas, hit by rubber bullets, or beaten by security forces. Spectator Vanessa Henriquez said, “I have three children and I cannot go to the marches, but it is wonderful that I can be here today to participate and to echo what we are all living in this country.”

One young artist, Oscar Olivares, a self-taught painter and friend of the slain volunteer paramedic Paul Moreno, who was crushed while attending to injured protesters, creates digital paintings that mix the faces of victims with images of national icons and religious figures. Protesters have been printing the works and using adhesive to affix them to shields that they use to protect themselves while marching. “All of us, with our gifts and talents, can build a better Venezuela,” said Olivares, who was one of the youngest exhibitors at Artexpo in New York this April. “I'm happy to know my art can provide hope and protection.”

Venezuela has been in a state of constant chaos since April 1, when the Supreme Court dissolved the parliament, stating that the opposition-led national assembly could no longer legislate. The judges reversed the decision three days later, but protests had already erupted, and then escalated on April 7, when president Nicolás Maduro stripped the opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, of his right to run for public office for the next fifteen years.

Henrique Montbrun, a doctor who runs a triage post in the municipality of Baruta, told The Guardian that Venezuelans are living “in a continuous state of emergency. It’s madness.” He added, “Violence doesn’t surprise me but the level of hatred security forces are showing towards average citizens and the use of non-conventional weapons like loading tear gas canisters with nails and marbles does take me aback.”