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Counter Current 17 and Venezuela

As an artist, Venezuelan, in exile living in Houston since July 2013, I recently had the pleasure of attending the Counter Current Festival of Performance, Installation and Ideas.

This was an exciting six-day event produced by the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts of the University of Houston. An array of great installations, performances, panel discussions and a video projection event, took place in a number of different city venues on a varied schedule.

"Current Conversations," held in the MATCH Gallery, April 19 to 22, and curated by artist Carrie Schneider, featured events in which artists and University of Houston faculty members from a range of disciplines talked about their work. Topics of discussions spanned gentrification, displacement, refugee asylum seekers, and ecological disasters, among others. The event also included conversations about programs and practices based on empathy, empowerment, legal support and creative design solutions. The closing event, on Sunday April 23, at Aurora Picture Show, featured a selection of video screenings by invited artists. On that gorgeous day, Ghana Thinktank also held a calligraphy workshop under a movable mosque.

During the time I was attending the festival, the streets of Caracas, and many others cities and towns in my country, were — and still are — subjected to fierce and sustained protests against the government. Day after day, after day, (over 60 by now) large marches are happening. There is strong government repression. This marks the longest turmoil yet in the history of our country. Every day brings reports of new dead, wounded, and incarcerated people, who were exercising their lawful right to protest. There are also food and medicine shortages. Venezuela has the highest inflation rate and degree of corruption in the world, and also has one of the highest homicide rates across the planet. Democratic institutions like the Supreme Court and the Electoral Power have been destroyed. There is segregation, discrimination, repression, and an overall lack of opportunities. We have a party and a group of people in power who decided the country is their own.

Even though I was not able to attend all the Counter Current performances, Current Conversations provided an extraordinary opportunity for me to get to know first-hand the work and hear the thoughts of a group of contemporary artists, scientists, educators and social workers on a number of important issues. When the festival came to an end, I found myself reflecting on the benefits of exposing and sharing the work of these select contemporary artists and their peers across a variety of fields. On one hand, I was struck by the flow of their work, and the interests and obsessions they developed over the years. On the other hand, I was left with a profound sense of hope, a renewed faith in humanity, and in the work Humanists can do.

In Venezuela, a deep sense of social and political conscience reigns. People from all paths of life are engaged and determined to recover our democracy with the promise of becoming a better country for all (the wealthy, the poor, people from the right, left, in between, and people of all ages).

At the Counter Current Festival global issues were dealt with through the work of both individuals and small collectives. As I write this, in my country, Venezuela, a social, political and civic counter current movement of unprecedented proportions, is also taking place, as a way to impact local issues.

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