2017 - Ongoing
In 2017 Ana María Arévalo Gosen undertook a reckless project. She photographed women in pre-trial detention centers in Venezuela. They are prison establishments anchored in the first decades of the 20th century, when people were imprisoned in inhumane conditions.
Anyone who thinks that this happened a hundred years ago makes a mistake. The images she took with a 28 mm lenses a her Leica Q in preventative detention centers located in several cities in Venezuela: Caracas, Valencia, Naguanagua, Guarenas, Mérida, Maracaibo and Guatire, document the scandalous violation of the human rights of these inmates. The Venezuelan prison system goes beyond the threshold of what is considered not acceptable in societies where democracy works: deaths due to malnutrition, infectious diseases and riots, severe overcrowding, extreme precariousness of sanitary facilities (irregular running water service), non-existence of dining rooms (supplies are provided by family members), lack of medical assistance, absence of sports activities and idle time occupation, mafias that sell drugs, arms, extort and kill. In this context of deprivation, in detention centers detainees are in a very vulnerable situation.
Until a judge decides to transfer to a prison awaiting trial or their release, their stay in these centers should not be prolonged more than 45 days, but by the desperate judicial process delay the time extended for months and years, are eternal.
The harshness of the living conditions in Venezuelan prisons and pre-trial detention centers have been denounced by non-governmental organizations “A Window to Freedom” and the “Observatory of Prisons”. Four years ago, Human Rights Watch warned that they were among the most violent in Latin America.
In the twentieth century, documentary photography demonstrated the capacity of images to show contradictory facts of society. Mrs. Arévalo Gosen leaves through her camera a testimony of the injustices that disturb her. That is why, when her work was recognized by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting Travel Grant and the Women Photograph + Nikon Grant in 2018, she found a way to make visible the misfortunes of Venezuelan women detained in preventive centers.
In her work, there are photographs prisoners lying and sitting on mats. They do not pose for the camera, so they spend their time in a deranged inactivity. She catches a woman who uses a bucket of water and half-naked inmates queuing to shower in a makeshift bathroom. She takes captures of legs and arms intertwined, of bodies with scars left on the skin when self-inflicted physical damage. Of pregnant inmates who do not know exactly in what month they are and do not receive prenatal care. There are photos of faces of intense sadness, of bewildered looks, of afflicted gestures. She focuses on walls with drawings of hearts as a substitute for noble sentiments and portrays backpacks hanging along the perimeter of the prison that seem to warn that their owners are passing through.
She spends days in the cells with the detainees. They talk for long times. They tell her their experiences, she recounts her too. A deal of trust is established: then, only then, she puts her camera to work.
They are women of modest origin. Their biographies have been marked by family abandonment, sexual abuse, violent treatment. Although they have known love, the life of narrowness has not granted them a moment of truce. They are accused of drug smuggling, theft, illicit carrying of arms, kidnapping of persons, association to commit a crime, corruption of minors, infanticide, terrorism, looting of private property. Having a second chance in their lives is a recurring idea that almost everyone has in mind.
These photos urge to denounce that the government authorities do not comply with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution that determines that Venezuela is constituted as a democratic and social State of law and justice, which places preeminent respect for human rights.
Faced with this dreadful prison reality, a mandatory task of public debate and political action in Venezuela, as well as in Latin American countries, is to contribute to the urgent establishment of penitentiary institutions that do not violate the human rights of detainees and women's rights. be women It is a way to preserve a human uniqueness: the ability to feel empathy, solidarity and understanding for the other.