Somewhere Over the Rainbow: the Emblematic Mosaic of Venezuelan Artist, Carlos Cruz Diez
Caracas is a nightmare to transit. Nestled in an elongated valley, there is little room to circle this lopsided metropolis. But to be stuck in traffic in Caracas is not the same as being stuck in traffic anywhere else.
Depending on where you happen to be stranded, the experience can be more than a simple inconvenience. This could be, in part, due to the dozens of buskers, vendors and window wipers, or, if you’re lucky, the optical illusions of the artist Carlos Cruz Diez.
A pioneer of the kinetic and optical movement, ‘Physichromie,’ Carlos Cruz Diez has transformed cities around the world with artistic urban intervention. Across Venezuela his work is identifiable on murals by the side of the road, pedestrian crossings, or on the landscape of skyscrapers. His simple but intricate geometric patterns explore the perceptions of colour, while encouraging an ‘awareness of the instability of reality.’
A fitting task for someone born in what is now the world’s most dangerous city outside a war-zone. With severe shortages in food and medicine, as well as the highest homicide rate per-capita, it comes as no surprise that there has been a wave of mass migration from this oil-rich nation. Those who can leave do, but not before passing by Cruz Diezes magnum opus.
The exodus begins in the parking lot of the Simon Bolivar Maiquetia airport in Caracas, where a nauseating mixture of sea, sewage and sugar greets any who are forced to partake in the act of departure. It is a strange canvas for an artist, but then again art has no qualms with place and procedure.
Inside the dungeon-like halls lie half a dozen stray dogs, sleeping through the rabble of travellers checking out of the mess some still call a country. Next to the dozing animals stands a mass of idle military men who look as if they’re about to sit down and join the creatures on the floor. Theirs is a useless profession, their disappointed faces telling a tale of bureaucratic incompetence that landed them in made-up positions of nothingness.
And then you see it. The merging blocks of red, yellow, blue and black, the only thing left in Venezuela with any structure or sense. Walking down what is commonly known as Cruz Diezes ‘Rainbow,’ is a bit like listening to Dorothy singing her ode to this prophetic weather phenomenon. Venezuelans wonder, they hope, they long and they imagine the day when they will get to cross this bright masterpiece again.
Cruz Diezes mastery lies not only in his talent in finding a canvas in urban spaces, but more so in his ability to give that space layers of profound, collective meaning. In the case of his Rainbow, the mosaic evokes both a memorable sense of belonging through geometric simplicity — the red, blue and yellow are all colours on the Venezuelan flag — but also an unspoken understanding between place and person. ‘This is it,’ says the floor. ‘You are about to leave your country.’
The Rainbow is a recognisable symbol to any Venezuelan who has had to journey outside the realm of La Coromoto. It is laden with sentimentality and a sense of adventure — a departure from the familiarity of the red, blue and gold, in exchange for the blackness of the unknown. But in more recent years it has lost its status as a transit route, and been replaced with a one-way street.
The Venezuelan migrant divorces themself from their homeland while still deeply in love, lamenting their departure by holding vigils en-masse at the end of the Rainbow. They gather at worn-out desks with their entire lives packed into two suitcases, exchanging their passports for the faintest hope of a future.
In those last few moments the migrant closes their eyes, tapping their shoes three times wishing a spell could ground them to the godforsaken land they have chosen to abandon. It is only at the end of the Rainbow that they discover the importance of the words, ‘There is no place like home.’ But it is too late. Their tapping shoes cannot counter the pain of circumstance. Cruz Diezes mosaic farewells a tired nation, a reassurance and a disappointment to those who walk the tiles hoping for something better on the other side.