Chavez chic LOCALSMAINSTREAM / May 2014

CHAVEZ CHIC

Photography by Eduardo Leal
Text by Dora Moutot

While Hugo Chávez has made an indelible mark on the political landscape of Venezuela and America, as well as the world’s, he has also left his trace on clothing. Portuguese photographer Eduardo Leal noticed and documented this trend in a photographic reportage. His series “Chávez Chic” showcases the “fashion” paraphernalia of those in attendance at the funeral of Hugo Chávez: t-shirts, badges, glasses, earrings, hats, etc. In Venezuela, there is even a word to designate these “Chávez fashionistas”, or “Chavistas”. The passionate link between Hugo Chávez and millions of Venezuelans goes as far as to even find its’ way into clothing.

 

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THE CHARACTER

 

A leader as much celebrated as he was hated, Hugo Chávez, the President of Venezuela who served for 14 years, died on March 5th 2013 in the city of Caracas after a battle with cancer. Adored by the poor majority of Venezuela, the charismatic Hugo Chávez, also called “El Comandante”, or “Chávez, the heart of the people”, has become a mythical figure, a super-man, and a quasi-messianic icon. “Chávez, is not me, Chávez is you”, he proclaimed.

Chávez incarnates his very own concept and doctrine: chavism. This is a powerful cocktail taking its roots in the revolutionary dreams of Latin America. Inspired by the Cuban example, Chávez presented himself as the inheritor of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, an admirer of the liberator Simón Bolívar, and a regular defender of controversial leaders such as Mouammar Kadhafi in Libya, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran or Bachar Al-Assad in Syria. His dream? To unite all Latin American peoples against the U.S. “Empire”.

Hugo Chávez was working to build a new form of socialism in his country. His fourteen years in office provided support for part of the population. With Venezuela ranking amongst the world’s largest oil producers, the country’s poorest benefitted from his social programs redistributing oil revenue. But today, Venezuela finds itself in a difficult situation – it is a country in crisis, where many struggles are taking place.

 

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CHAVEZ FASHION

 

If “Chávez” paraphernalia is selling so well, it’s surely thanks to Chávez’s skill in playing up the cult of his personality while he was alive. During his years in power, Chávez plastered his image everywhere as if a little Jesus. His signature red shirt made him immediately recognisable. Every Sunday, he appeared in a televised show called “Aló Presidente”. He invented the concept of “reality TV” for politics. The show began around 11 a.m., running for several hours, allowing the president to show off his improvisational talent. It was not uncommon for him to sing or even recite poems. Sometimes, he fired important people or would announce the nomination of new ministers, while live on set.

“In the years I’ve been living in London, I’ve been working on a photography archive about the Cuban Revolution. It gave me an awareness of how the image of leaders was used to propagate their ideals and their political message… It wasn’t my first visit to Caracas, so I was well aware of the amount of paraphernalia that existed with the image of Chávez. But to be honest, I was not expecting that there would be so many stalls selling it around the Military Academy, where the funeral took place. It was almost like going to a football match where you could buy anything with the colours of your team beforehand”, explains Eduardo.

 

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“Venezuelan people are entrepreneurs by nature and they took the opportunity of the funeral to produce and sell more items with the Chávez image”, he adds.

“But the Chávez items were always around, especially the t-shirts, the hats and the Chavezitos: the Chávez figures that look like an action man. The hard-core Chavistas will use these almost daily, while the majority of his supporters will use them during special events and the political campaigns”, says Eduardo.

 

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Surprised to not see people wearing more black, I ask Eduardo to describe the atmosphere at the funeral:

“There was a mix of feelings. Obviously, there were people sad with the death of the President, but I feel that in a way it was expected since he was sick for many months. At the same time, there was a kind of positive energy, because even if people had lost their leader, they wanted to keep his memory and work alive so they cheered and screamed his name as a way of perpetuating his memory”, he says.

 

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THE CULT

 

Before dieing, Chávez called upon his people to vote for Nicolás Maduro, who in turn, became President of Venezuela in 2013. The image of Chávez, then, continues to serve his political party to this day.

“The Chávez cult is still alive. For better or worse, he has left a massive legacy in the country. Also, his image is the biggest banner for the party in power. Just listen to the speeches of current President Nicolás Maduro: the name of Chávez is usually present. There is an almost omnipresent image of Chávez in every place. Chávez has been turned into a kind of Saint by many of his supporters. Small chapels in memory of Saint Hugo Chávez were erected in many neighbourhoods.”

“Coming from a European country where you see political paraphernalia only in campaigns and in protests, I will say that Venezuela is very political fashioned. As I said before, it’s normal for people to wear clothes and accessories with the political party of their choice in their daily life”, concludes Eduardo.

 

➜ www.eduardoleal.co.uk

 

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