Art on the move – interview with a young Cuban community arts worker in Venezuela

Cuban art instructor Yanila Rodriguez Gomez working in Venezuela September 2020/Juventud Rebelde

Cuban art instructor Yanila Rodríguez Gómez has had to face the pandemic alongside Venezuelans, which has led her to rethink how to do things. She was interviewed by Juventud Rebelde reported 24 September.

She writes passionately and hastily, as if the time were too short or to try to erase the distance that separates Cuba from Venezuela. “I enjoy to the maximum the smiles of the children, the applause of the grandparents and the thanks of the parents. That is enough for me to feel proud of what I do as an art instructor and not to stop, even in difficult moments.”

More than 13 years ago, the young woman from Granma, Yanila Rodríguez Gómez, decided to be an art instructor. “At first I thought that I would not succeed, but something told me that I belonged to that world and that I should not give it up. During the years of study I began to discover incredible things that made me a better person, and I understood that, through my theatre specialism, I wanted to teach others the experience that I had had, I understood that I was not wrong, that that was the path for me. I graduated and began to be part of a force of culture workers always at the service of the country, ” she says.

Were you drawn to theatre before? Why did you decide on this specialism?

—Since I was little I used to like to mime in front of the television and dance with the living room curtain or with the broomstick, playing around, but I never did anything seriously artistic. In the family, my grandfather, my mother’s father, was fond of Mexican music, at some point he dedicated himself to it. The truth is I chose theatre without knowing what I would face, all I knew was the connection to characters in novels, and I liked that.

What happened after finishing your studies in theatre?

—I graduated in 2006 from the José Martí School of Art Instructors, in Holguín. Then I started working at the November 30th Vocational Pre-University Institute of Pedagogical Sciences…, where I got involved with the movement of amateur artists and the formation of three theatre groups, which achieved a high impact in the community. Seven very intense years from which I remember my adventures as a cultural guerrilla in hard-to-reach communities with my ‘Pepa’, a funny character who amused the public with jokes based around country customs.

Because of the results of my work, I was selected to go to Venezuela as part of the Culture Mission. From 2013 to 2015, I developed various community projects in the state of Anzoátegui in that country. It was a time of great joy, of sharing and learning other knowledge, of exchanging with the inhabitants and learning about their tastes, of making art touch them.

Upon my return I continued in the Institute, until for personal reasons I went to live in Morón. For a year I was at the Haydée Santamaría House of Culture, as I went on mission again. I arrived in Venezuela in March 2017 and in this new role I have developed my work in three states. In Mérida I assumed the responsibility of coordinator, as well as work as an integral advisor and teacher in the promotor training process. In Yacaruy I continued this work for three months and now in Caracas I have done a bit of everything because of all the experience I have.

Here, our actions are aimed at making visible, promoting and strengthening the expressions of traditional Venezuelan popular culture. We do it through methodological technical advice to social actors integrated in the cultural development of the communities.

It is our turn to create and care for the Colmenita Bolivariana children’s cultural project, the technical-methodological preparation of cultural animators and artistic teams, the provision of artistic workshops, the development of forums for significant experiences, cultural promotion activities in the communities ….

Your character of the jumping clown has gained a popular following …

—’Saltarina’ is joy and colour: a character that emerged in Venezuela in a context different from that of the pandemic, but with the same desire to amuse and make those who stop to see her so happy. Over time it has been moulded and today it is my reflection multiplied in colours.

How have you faced these times of the coronavirus?

—The pandemic has made us rethink ways of doing things. Firstly and as a priority —when the social and voluntary quarantine was decreed here— we took all the biosafety measures and in support of the Medical Mission, we joined the active house-to-house investigations and logistics [as in Cuba – checking on people in need of support, local contact and trace], a unique experience that has made us feel more useful.

On weekends, and as part of the easing of the quarantine that President Nicolás Maduro decreed at the time, we returned to our community arts settings to develop recreational activities with children, adolescents and older adults, although other age groups have been added.

In addition to keeping the identity elements of traditional Venezuelan popular culture alive, these activities are a way of raising awareness about the need to comply with the measures established by the country’s government and health authorities to avoid the spread of COVID-19. We offer options to Venezuelan families very close to home, without drawing a crowd. We want the community to have the opportunity to enjoy themselves within the rules after so many days of confinement.

Are there many cultural differences between the Cuban and Venezuelan people? Is it easy to adapt to that culture?

—Venezuela has a great cultural diversity, which has nothing to do with ours. It is difficult to adapt to the ways and customs, especially when we have our roots well rooted, but it has not been impossible, because we work hand in hand with the Venezuelan organisation, its knowledge about the elements of its cultural and traditional manifestations. The processes that methodologically we bring from Cuba have enabled the cohesion. I have drawn a lot from popular knowledge, language, religious and cultural manifestations, and orally transmitted literature for the development of theatre in the communities.

Special moments during these years of mission?

—Working with children, involving them in an inclusive project such as the Colmenita Bolivariana, which emerged as part of the Cuba-Venezuela Comprehensive Cooperation Agreement and the Fundación Misión Cultura; helping them and their family grow as people. In addition, having the opportunity with them to meet with President Maduro was a unique and special moment….

A difficult and happy one at the same time?

Having to face with the children not being able to see each other in person and continue with the montage projects that we had dreamed of. Messages like: “Teacher, I miss you a lot”, “I want to do theatre again”, they make me long to return to our routine, to help them see that it is worth meeting to build a better future together.

And your family, your friends …?

—My family has been essential to my development. Their constant support and hugs from a distance give me strength to keep going. Other people have been physically present, they have believed in me and they have accompanied me in this journey with art. I appreciate the love and solidarity that I have received in all this time.

Link to original interview by Juventud Rebelde in Spanish