David Viña has witnessed the power of artistic expression in his home country of Venezuela, which is in the midst of an economic and humanitarian crisis. The 22-year old Father’s House volunteer is now preparing for his first Shaftesbury art display, during Fringe 2019.
It is hard to imagine how difficult life is in Venezuela. The economy has collapsed and hyperinflation has made essentials unaffordable and medicines scarce. Political instability has brought civil unrest and there are regular clashes between members of the public and security forces.
“It looks bad on television, but it is even worse in real life,” said David. “The country’s falling down in pieces. There is a lack of electricity, gas and water.” He says that blackouts have lasted for up to five days and there are regular power cuts.
“People have to queue for food, and sometimes they spend the whole day queuing and in the end, they say ‘we don’t have food anymore’. Kids are starving and people are literally eating trash on the streets,” he said. “People that need chemo for their cancers have died. It’s heart-breaking how a country as rich as mine has been treated like this by a dictatorship, because this is what it is.”
David is from Mérida, 415 miles from the capital of Caracas. His family keep him informed of the deteriorating situation at home. Even before David left, everyday life was dire. “I remember that more than once I had to hide because they were shooting in the streets, bombs here, bombs there. People on passing motorcycles were shouting at you.”
He stopped talking and briefly sighed. “The police were throwing bombs at elderly people that were queuing and protesting because they didn’t have food. When you see that situation you say, ‘oh my goodness, I don’t want for this to happen anymore’.”
In Venezuela, artists started creating pieces or putting on productions to make powerful statements. “I was involved in some performances that went out on the streets and people were so pleased. The military was nearby, and they were upset it. That was three years ago. Now it’s even worse,” said David.
Against this backdrop of unrest and deep uncertainty, art is flourishing, although it isn’t the type of art for entertainment or home decoration that artists offer us here in Shaftesbury. “I think this whole situation has given them tools to protest through the arts. You can see the performances in the streets and fashion designers emerging,” explained David. “Visual artists are starting, as well as photographers. Everyone is trying to do something. People that left the country are working from the outside, establishing new businesses. It’s inspiring to see these people fighting the government, who are trying to shut everything down. They are saying ‘we won’t let these people tear us down’.”
David’s experience has helped him understand how art can offer more than just something nice to look at. He says he aims to use his creative skills, whether it is painting, playwriting or fashion design, to create something positive and beautiful. “Hate generates more hate and fire produces more fire. I want to inspire people. Something that I’ve learned in this whole journey is that art is not supposed to give you answers, but it will at least generate your questions.”
The story of how David came to Shaftesbury is unusual. Back in December 2016, he was still in Venezuela and he had a strong sense that his life was about to change. “I had a feeling that something would happen in 2017. I wasn’t sure what it was. I was studying acting at university at the time,” he said.
David was attending a theatre festival in Caracas when his father called him and said that their church had heard about a volunteering role overseas. David said that his father and the congregation were praying that one of their local residents would be awarded the opportunity. Their prayers were answered, and he accepted the internship because he wanted the chance to ‘grow as a person, financially, culturally and linguistically’. “I came here. Now I know that it was the right decision,” he said.
David believes that what happened to him in 2016 was not luck or a coincidence. He says that it has confirmed his faith. His volunteering has taken him to India, Bournemouth and Bath, when he worked in the warehouse of charity ‘Mercy in Action’.
Here in Shaftesbury, David has undertaken practical, charity and missionary work whilst helping at Open House at Father’s House. Now David wants to show Shaftesbury his art, so he’s displaying a sculpture at the Arts Centre during Shaftesbury Fringe. His piece will portray fashion as a creature or being and he hopes that his ‘fashion’ sculpture will make an impression. “I’m not using conventional materials. I’m not using ceramic, wood or metal. I am using fabric and PVC as the main materials. It will be fluid, falling from the wall to the ground,” said David.
David now intends to use his art and creativity to support his future volunteering, helping people all around the world and in Venezuela. “I want to be able to help people, when I settle properly. I will carry on going around the world and helping people back home,” he said.
David is already planning another exhibition, which will feature some of his paintings. He hopes that his art could fund a trip to Ukraine, where he wants to volunteer with needy children and undertake more humanitarian and practical work within the community. In the future, he’s planning a fashion brand, too. With his boundless enthusiasm and many ideas, it seems that David will use his art to make a difference for a long time in the future.
You can see David’s show, Le Mode 2019, in the Arts Centre foyer between 5th and 7th of July.