Over the past decade, close to 8 million Venezuelans have been forced to abandon their homeland. This displacement accounts for over a quarter of the country’s population, making it one of the largest migration crises in recorded history.

Build what we hate. Destroy what we love. seeks to magnify the narratives of Venezuelan migrants, by exploring the haptic transformation of memories and experiences through physical materials. This exhibition narrates the tales of migration through objects, tracing their uncertain journeys as they leave familiar homes, find their way to new places, or are left abandoned along the way. Remnants of lives are transformed into silent witnesses, embodying the sacrifices and the courage of those in search of a better life, and shedding light on the more-often-bitter-than-sweet process of letting go.

The title of this exhibition embodies a paradoxical dynamic that illustrates the interplay between the creation and dismantling of harmful systems — be they political, social, economic, or even belief systems. This sense of reciprocity underscores the complexities of human behavior within these oppressive frameworks.

Venezuelans find themselves entangled in an intricate web of oppression: a despotic regime, economic instability, and social unrest create an environment where the pursuit of a better life becomes a daily struggle. Within this context, individuals are compelled to interact with the very systems that oppress them and engage in what can be described as "daily acts of corruption," participating, though reluctantly, in practices that sustain the very violence and inequity that they suffer from. Think of bribing and extortion; not only among government officials — for which there’s plenty of documentation — but among everyday people who pay (or charge) to access anything from an identification card, a medical appointment, a spot in line to fill up a gas tank, and increasingly, to cross borders.

As crises deepen, people are forced to part with their limited resources to seek refuge in neighboring countries, forcing them to shed possessions that were once deemed valuable and even irreplaceable. Build what we hate. Destroy what we love. grows from an autoethnographic research that proposes the concept of “Object of Embodied Memories” as distinct from “Material Culture.” This idea introduces items imbued with profound personal meaning for individuals, possessing a unique storytelling power irrespective of their significance within the broader national identity or their representational value.

Each item carries a story, a memory of a life once lived,
a life suspended, and a life unrealized.

Cassandra Mayela, Chaleco, 2023, Collected and woven clothing, 27 x 22 in.

The textile creations of Cassandra Mayela are crafted from clothing items donated to the artist by members of the Venezuelan diaspora. Each garment undergoes a transfiguration as she converts them into threads, which are then woven together, turning separate artifacts into a unified collaborative work. This repetitive and meditative process of aggregation not only intertwines the different threads, but also merges the diverse experiences of Venezuelan immigrants into a vibrant textile narrative, generating a deep sense of unity among seemingly unrelated stories.

Holding more than just material value, the donated wearables are charged with personal memories which, activated by the artist’s hand, infuse the works with an intangible character that breathes life into every thread, transcending the fabric’s’ materiality to stitch together an emotional tapestry that’s larger than the sum of its parts. Selected personal accounts from individuals who donated clothes accompany these artifacts, emphasizing the humanity embedded within them and revealing a living archive of the many individual stories that form a collective history.

Cassandra Mayela, La Carga, 2023, Deconstructed Backpack, 18 x 20 in.

With her piece La Carga, Cassandra Mayela deconstructs a ubiquitous Venezuelan emblem: “el bolso de la patria” (the backpack of the homeland) —a bag given along with school supplies to a considerable number of public school students as part of an national educational policy. Its durability mirrors that of the regime, and ironically, proves ideal for carrying heavy loads. More and more, these tricolor backpacks have been introduced to global contexts by Venezuelan migrants who, in cruel irony, carry their homeland on their backs as they seek a better life abroad.

Ronald Pizzoferrato, El tiempo que ha pasado, 2023, Single-channel video, 4 min (still)

Ronald Pizzoferrato’s artistic research took him on the trek undertaken by millions of migrants, capturing stories that comment on the urgency and ingenuity of those most marginalized. His video El tiempo que ha pasado navigates migrants’ precarious circumstances of daily survival, documenting the various emotions etched into the faceless voices of migrants. It’s a harrowing journey, but despite the pervasive violence that compels Venezuelans to migrate, there’s a spirit of ingenuity, resilience, and hope —to either start anew, or to return home.

Ronald Pizzoferrato, Las Morochas, 2019, Digital photography, 71 x 48 in.

The selected portraits from his Path of the Objects series introduce us to migrants through the possessions they carry across borders. The photographs reflect on historical depictions of wealth in art, offering a glimpse into the social, economic, and cultural dimensions of the subjects' lives. They expose the perspectives of Caminantes (walkers, people crossing borders by foot) and their relationship with material wealth, challenging conventional notions of affluence. Notably, their faces remain concealed by the very objects they carry, abstracting their identities and emphasizing a sense of universality in migratory journeys. This deliberate anonymity reveals the shared experiences binding these migrants, and the harsh reality that they’re often treated as mere numbers: indistinguishable and dehumanized.

In Memorabilia Migrante, a hand-made photo book, the artist displays objects he discovered along the primary migration routes that leave from Venezuela, a stark display of migration’s footprint. Each image tells a story of loss and adaptation, spotlighting items that were once considered essential but are now abandoned along the way as people’s border-crossing trek becomes more strenuous. The abandoned objects, frozen in time and removed from its environment, symbolize both physical burdens and the emotional weight of leaving everything behind.

Juan Diego Pérez la Cruz, Lagunas Mentales, 2023, 9-channel video Installation, 3.5 minutes (still)

In a reflection of the experiences shared by countless immigrants, Juan Diego Pérez la Cruz presents the video installation Lagunas Mentales (mental blanks), a multi-channel display where each screen shows a video of nearly static photographs that have undergone intervention by the artist. Memory is a dynamic and reconstructive process, and this piece delves into the ephemeral nature of the remembrances rooted in one’s homeland along with the desire to recreate them in other places using whatever resources are available. For this end, the artist gathers and manipulates vintage photographs, acknowledging them not merely as raw materials, but as vestiges of life, which, willingly or not, have been left behind.

The artist's own family photos have been mostly lost due to exile, forcing an introspective exploration of his family history through the remains of other unknown families’ histories. These photographs bear the marks of time and neglect; torn and affixed to a red surface with nails, they symbolize the vulnerability and the impermanence of memories. By combining the intentional degradation of the photos with an intense red environment, Pérez La Cruz creates an unsettling sensory experience, heightening the desire to hold onto fragments of a fading past, and forcing us to confront the inevitable erosion of memory and the emotional impact of exile and displacement.

Juan Diego Pérez la Cruz, "Composición Abierta Estrofa I", 2019, Lyrical collage Word-based installation

His lyrical collages, on the other hand, invite us to imagine a more hopeful national destiny. The five stanzas of Composicion Abierta reclaim verses sourced from diverse anthems representing Venezuela's various regions. Each line conjures the fruitful and thriving soul of the natural landscape, enshrining the land, and not the ideology behind our national symbols. This poetic practice disassembles traditional notions of patriotism, and serves as a healing balm for transgenerational wounds.

Through the lens of the objects, this exhibition paints a vivid picture of the people behind the statistics, inviting viewers to connect with the subtleties of migrant experiences. By exploring these themes, Build what we hate. Destroy what we love. prompts a profound reckoning with the nuances of daily life — the small, seemingly insignificant actions that collectively uphold and/or challenge the systems that connect us. It transforms into a reflective mirror, forcing us to confront our own contradictions and urge us to question the systems we have inadvertently contributed to sustaining, recognizing the potential for collective change.

Fabiola R. Delgado
Open Call Exhibition
© apexart 2023

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