Investigating Venezuela’s Codes of Violent Coexistence

Artist Ronald Pizzoferrato looks at how Caracas society has adopted its violent culture.

Venezuela’s capital is among the most violent cities in the world. Homicide and crime statistics show this to be true.

Photographer and visual researcher Ronald Pizzoferrato analyses this scourge from a different perspective, going beyond numbers and headlines.

“Very few researchers take the time to analyse the consumption mechanisms that violence leaves behind (…) It’s analysed at the numerical level, but my concern is that we have been living so many years with this violence — as if a houseguest overstayed their welcome — that we started doing and undoing things with codes that violence brings out between us and which we use to interact with it, but which are not explicitly violent in themselves,” he said.

The 33-year-old Venezuelan, who began photographing in Caracas in 2009 while doing night-time graffiti, migrated to Switzerland in 2015 where he obtained a scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in trend analysis and identity at the Zurich Higher School of Arts. This allowed him to link his visual art with data research through images.

Today, once again, Pizzoferrato walks through the streets of Caracas that he knew from his childhood, taking out his camera or phone to document everything that he feels is associated with people’s coexistence with violence.

As a visual researcher, he uses these images to document and analyse aspects of life and social interaction while he keeps a tab on social network trends. He thus examines what people consume and the impact that violence generates on the streets, the markets, and political discourse.

In March, the Swiss publishing house Artphilein will release a book called “Plomo” [literally “lead,” colloquially used to refer to gunfire or bullets, or to express agreement with something]. This project details and analyses the social codes that Caracas residents have constructed to survive and communicate in the midst of violence.

The book brings together images and stories that Pizzoferrato has recorded and which have led him to open exhibits in Switzerland and Venezuela.

Violence and exclusion

The photographer explains that violence has created social inclusion and exclusion mechanisms, something he notices both in schools and at the highest political offices.

According to the researcher, if a person does not adapt to certain gestural, communicational or even dress codes linked to violence, they are not accepted into certain groups or they may generate mistrust with their interlocutors.

He also points out that even political leaders incorporate aggressive content into their speech to survive and be accepted in an environment with much violence. If they did not do so, they would be perceived as weak.

“If you’re in the centre of Caracas and you see somebody pulling out an expensive phone and stop in the middle of the street, those around that person will exclude them,” the artist explained.

With this simple action, the person in question is immediately identified as an outsider: they do not know the codes of conduct that violence has generated, in which exhibiting valuable objects on the street is considered irresponsible and may make them vulnerable to a crime.

Beyond the headlines

The title of his most recent work, “Plomo,” is used in Venezuelan slang to refer to gunshots but also as an enthusiastic expression when agreeing with someone.

Pizzoferrato emphasises that his main intention is to explain how Caracas residents have adapted to violent circumstances in their day-to-day life.

In addition, he criticises that phenomena such as violence, migration or crime are always reported as brief news stories in Latin America, and that little time is dedicated to analyse or document how they transform people’s environments and lives.

Images of bloody events in the streets of Caracas, clashes between criminal organisations or collapsed morgues flood national and international media.

“I think that if they reduce us to numbers, to chaos, to anarchy, to collapse, to objects which are sold, in the end we are seen as savages, as underdeveloped people. This is why explicit violence does not interest me, but rather what occurs in relation to it,” he adds.

Pizzoferrato directs his lens at everything that surrounds criminality and its ramifications in the daily life of Venezuelans: homes with barred up windows and doors, CCTV security cameras, electrical fences, locks and padlocks on top of each other, ordinary people with bodyguards, armoured vehicles, bulletproof glass and vests, watchmen and many weapons.

The Venezuelan artist’s work has been supported by Nikon’s Globetrotter World Photo initiative, which promotes photographic projects.

In parallel, he recently started working on a collaborative project called “Malandro.” This project aims to reduce the negative impact of the word and its connotations in Venezuela.

In Caracas, the word “malandro” is used to refer to someone who commits criminal acts, but the term is also used in a prejudiced fashion to refer to those who dress or express themselves in a certain way, usually people of lower economic resources.

Magda Gibelli is the Sputnik correspondent in Caracas, Venezuela.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.

Translation by Paul Dobson for Venezuelanalysis.