Crime & Justice

Art project offers fresh hope to jailed Venezuelan migrants in Ecuador

By Fernando Arroyo Leon

Quito, Jun 6 (EFE).- An art project at a prison in the Ecuadorian border city of Tulcan aims to combat the xenophobia, racism and discrimination frequently experienced by Venezuelan migrants.

Sponsored by the International Organization for Migration and developed by the Heliconia foundation, the “Tejiendo suenos” (Weaving Dreams) program marks the continuation of “El viaje del caracol,” an ongoing initiative that uses photographs and videos to tell the story of the Venezuelan prison population in Tulcan – people who are doubly vulnerable due to their status as both impoverished immigrants and inmates.

One of the project participants, writer and journalist Juan Carlos Morales, told Efe that “El viaje del caracol” uses Homer’s “Odyssey” as a metaphor for Venezuelans who are uprooted from their homes and former lives and are often exploited en route by gangs.

Those themes that were already explored in that epic poem written in the eighth century BCE “also are relevant to human beings now,” Morales said.

In their exodus, the Venezuelan people are confronted by gangs that exploit or rob them” en route, and they also become entangled in drug micro-trafficking, one of the main reasons they end up behind bars, he added.

Morales said the “joyful and musical” quality of the Venezuelan people he met at the Tulcan prison also led the project in an artistic direction.

During the first stage, the plan was to create a film and a series of photographs so the Venezuelan prison population would see themselves as protagonists of an odyssey, one in which they faced dangerous challenges yet overcame them with their joy.

That project continued this year, but there also was a new focus on the manual dexterity and creativity the migrants possess and can still showcase despite their difficult circumstances.

This new stage highlights jailed migrants’ skill at crafting colorful bead necklaces and bracelets, as well as the infectious joy they exude with their singing and dancing.

Morales said the project could be replicated at other prisons in Ecuador at a time of severe crisis in the correctional system, where gang fighting behind bars has claimed the lives of more than 360 inmates since 2021.

“Prison is the mirror of society” and also a place where bridges can be built that bring human beings together, he said.

“If a person shares a sewing kit so that another person can start creating a necklace, even as a form of therapy, a bond is formed between them and surely neither is going to attack the other,” Morales said, adding that this is a way of turning the construct of fear associated with prisons to one of hope.

To that end, he said an itinerant exhibition is being prepared using the Tulcan photographic and audiovisual material, which will be taken to prisons throughout Ecuador to show that another reality is possible. EFE


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