Daniel Arzola, visual artist, Human Rights activist and lecturer who has suffered intolerance in his own flesh in its most direct form, was born in Maracay, Venezuela, on May 6, 1989. A few years later he would start making his first drawings laying the foundations of what would be his immense talent, his job and his purpose of life: to make art also a means of inclusion for those who feel marginalized due to their sexual orientation or identity.
We might think that a country like Venezuela, receiver of large waves of immigrants from the first half and well into the 80s of the twentieth century, multiracial, well connected to the world by its geographical position, immensely prosperous, with a solid educational system and a pushful middle class until not long ago, would be far from being homophobic. It could be thought. But it is not reality. Venezuela is a country where maleness and homophobia are part of everyday life and also of the institutionality. From the president of the Republic to deputies from across the whole ideological spectrum they use homosexuality to disqualify or insult (among many other things). And this has only increased in recent decades.
Since he was just a child, Daniel found in art, specifically in drawing, a kind of refuge, an escape from that prejudiced society that surrounded him.
Unfortunately, his experience with intolerance was not going to be just a matter of individual perception or relative homophobia. There was an episode that would reinforce his fears and that literally confronted him with a life or death situation. The simple fact that Daniel was homosexual, was reason enough for him, with just fifteen years, and in the not so distant 2004 a group of people will intercept him in his hometown, destroy much of his creations and physically assault him to levels that exceed the most morbid imagination.
That aggression could have minimized or daunt him, but the opposite happened: after a few years of “creative pause”, and encouraged by similar or worse episodes than his own, Daniel decided not only that he would resume creation, but that it would be a voice for those that they don’t have it through social activism. Or «artivism», a term that he coined by combining his usual passion, the art, with his new life purpose.
In his own words: «Artivism is using art as a tool for social transformation. It is to be able to represent an idea that cannot be destroyed and that serves to represent us culturally, since art affects culture, and cultural changes are also the beginning of a new reality».
Inspired by this powerful and innovative term, Daniel Arzola creates the campaign “I am not your joke”, a series of posters with approaches that face homophobia and transphobia, work that was translated into twenty languages and supported via Twitter by the American singer Madonna. In this way, he began an unstoppable career in which art, pop culture and social networks are mixed and enhanced, catalyzed by Daniel’s restless and brilliant mind.
2017 is a very special year for Daniel. On the one hand, it is the winner of the Trailblazer Honor Award of the American television network Logo TV for its contribution to the LGBTQ community, while, at the southern end of our continent, Arzola intervened the Carlos Jáuregui station of the Buenos Aires metro with «The voice that opened the way», a work alluding to the fight of the LGBTQ community and which would become its first permanent exhibition. It is also in this year that the American magazine Americas Quarterly includes him in its “Top 5” of influential graphic artists in Latin America.
In 2018, the government of Alberta, Canada, included Daniel Arzola in the “Top 30 under 30”, a recognition dedicated to people under 30 who have had a global impact on building fairer realities.
Daniel Arzola’s “artivism” theory has been discussed in various universities around the world including Venezuela, Mexico, Ecuador, United States and Canada, among other countries, where he has offered lectures, talks and workshops on art as a tool for social transformation, and as a form of empowerment of communities or individuals submit to discrimination.
“… It is to turn art into an idea that unites us, communicates us and cannot be destroyed. It’s creating symbols of the fight”, Daniel tells us from Santiago, Chile, his current city of residence, about what he considers an unstoppable symbiosis between his artistic creation and his social commitment.
“When you have a conflict, I think there is a vital degree where you try to resist and wait for your moment …». Daniel’s moment came a while ago. And he did it to tell us all that our uniqueness is valuable, that sensitivity is a tool and not a defect, that we raise our voice with courage. And that, if we persist in honesty and commitment, perhaps the world will stop for a moment to listen to us.
/ BY MARTÍN BRASSESCO