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31 January 2020

Venezuela’s Mass Migration and its Causes

31 January 2020 - Written by Verónica Sanchis Bencomo

Returning to Venezuela when everybody else was leaving, Andrea Hernández began using her camera to document her deteriorating homeland at a time of historic change.

© Andrea Hernandez, from the series Homecoming

When Andrea Hernández embarked on a journey back to Venezuela after a few years living overseas, she noticed that she was attending more leaving parties than birthday celebrations. Since 2017, more than four million people have migrated Venezuela (according to ACNUR). In her project Homecoming, Hernández photographs the causes that have motivated people to flee her country, while also documenting those who adventure to stay in this unstable economy. Hernández focuses on Caracas’ surroundings where locals struggle amidst food and medicine shortages and violence.

What have been the biggest challenges of photographing your homeland having lived overseas? Do you find you have a different perspective?

One of the biggest challenges was to return to a place where everything had changed. And not for the best. Venezuela had deteriorated so fast it was hardly recognisable. I was very affected by this the first months, but then I decided to make a project out of my confusion and heartache. Living overseas taught me that beautiful images can also come out of pain. The body of work “Homecoming” is a love song to all the people that rebel against the decay and continue to fight for the right to a normal life of birthdays, marriages, funerals and less going away parties.

Another struggle was to find a community. Since most of my friends and family had migrated, I had to reconfigure my circle of friends and it ended up being a wonderful Frankenstein of interesting and kind people. I’m thankful for this. Coming back made me appreciate the charms of adaptation.

© Andrea Hernandez, from the series Homecoming

Has living abroad had any impact on the way you photograph today? (could you mention any influences?)

Living abroad is a humbling exercise. It forces upon us the reality that we aren’t the bellybutton of the world. It has definitely impacted my practice in many ways that I understand and in other shapes and colors that I cannot even imagine. But for what I can see now, it has added many names, bodies of work and tastes to my reference folder: painter Tarsila do Amaral, photographer Isadora Romero, actor Theo Koppel, teacher Fidencia Chavajay, cook Chicco Nanni.

It has also added many new insecurities to the old list because leaving your country for another is like looking up into the starlit sky and realizing that we are very small. In fact, tiny, like this inoffensive and small cliché. I’ve extended this insight into a challenge that I want to be better and kinder every day so that my work has a positive impact on others. Even if it is just a little bit of light.

How does assignment work affect your personal work, and vice versa?

Assignment work can be both a blessing and a curse. It has helped me maintain a living as a photographer, stay on top of the news cycle, meet sources for my personal projects and make a name as a professional. It is almost rude to speak badly against it, but I guess I can be a little bit rude. Even though I feel annoyingly lucky for being paid to do what I love, assignment work can consume you if you don’t have your personal work always floating inside your head like a mantra. It is easy to get lost. I get lost once a week. Producing, traveling and photographing take a lot of time and, more dangerously, energy. It can also stifle creativity because it leaves very little space for down time in my agenda and I truly believe that idleness is useful for developing deep and thoughtful work. On the other hand, my personal projects have cultivated my own voice as an artist through the kindnesses of abstraction. Miraculously, I sometimes get hired for assignments thanks to these projects in which I allow myself to play and experiment.

© Andrea Hernandez, from the series Homecoming

Have you worked in other regions of Latin America? What has that experience been like?

I have worked in Colombia, Guatemala and Dominican Republic. I wish to develop projects and go on assignments to other places in Latin America and the Caribbean because I have an itching curiosity to understand this vibrant continent. We have the Spanish language in common –mostly– and it opens many doors into universes like music and literature. This makes me feel a little bit more connected to fellow Latin-Americans. The experience has been both enlightening and heartbreaking. In both countries I’ve been reminded that Venezuelans aren’t welcome to many other places because we are not tourists anymore, we are migrants. But at the same time I’ve been shown the capacity of empathy and compassion that many give and receive. Each time I travel, I understand that storytelling is the best way to awaken the imagination in others so that they can put themselves in other people’s shoes.

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Andrea Hernández Briceño is a Venezuelan photographer currently based in Caracas. In 2017, she was given the Director’s Scholarship to study at the International Center of Photography. In 2018, she participated in the Eddie Adams Workshop and she was selected as a Women Photograph Mentee. Andrea focuses on social conflicts and community issues in the Latin American and Caribbean region. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

Verónica Sanchis Bencomo is a Venezuelan photographer and curator based in Hong Kong. In 2014, she founded Foto Féminas, a platform that promotes the works of female Latin American and Caribbean photographers. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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This article is part of In Focus: Latin American Female Photographers, a monthly series curated by Verónica Sanchis Bencomo focusing on the works of female visual storytellers working and living in Latin America.


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