June 30, 2004

More stuff on National Prizes

There's more National Prize turmoil: Architect Oscar Tenreiro (not to be confused with his brother Architect Jesus Tenreiro), who was awarded the National Prize for Architecture released this article today on El Nacional:

Reflections on an award.
by Oscar Tenreiro

I think a National Prize, more than one of those recognitions that, in Venezuela, are like a forced exile, is a chance to communicate to others beyond the boundaries of what is routine. So, when gossip brought me the news that my name had been mentioned by the jury of any given year, I thought that whatever the political circumstances of the moment, I would accept it as a special moment to say things.

That's why, when at the end of February, a member of the jury called me up and told me: "Oscar, we awarded you the National Prize, we want to know if you'll accept it", I accepted, letting him know of my wish to say a few words at the award ceremony.

I had to wait for a returned call. There was a 2003 rule that did not allow prize winners to speak (¿?). I thought it was unusual that an awarded honor established that limitation, but I understood it better when a month later, I received, at home, an acceptance affidavit, which I had to sign, and which contained a paragraph that stated "I formally commit to appear at the award ceremony (...) on the date set by the CONAC." As I modified the paragraph with my own handwriting, I wondered why these days, being awarded a National Prize is equivalent to being summoned by a judge.

I had to look for a way to fulfill my wish to say things.

In the time since my signature of the affidavit until today, almost four months ago, the CONAC never officially acknowledged that the prize was awarded, something without precedent; and when I started doubting that the whole thing was even true, they called me on the 23rd for some information and on the 25th they left me a message saying that the prize would be awarded on the 30th of June.

The conditions to the outer limits of the law were going to be fulfilled, as lawyers say, so it was my turn for the wished-for communication.

And I decided to do it in two ways: One through this article, which I dedicate to personal aspects that I think are key; and another one through an interview that should be published today, or one of these days, in which I deal only with architectural themes and architects.

Oscar Tenreiro Degwitz


In the personal realm, I begin by saying that the recently appointed Minister of State for Culture was my professional partner until the end of the 90's, when he opted for other spaces. We were not only partners, but close friends.

We shared educational efforts at the UCV that some consider laudable. The family world of each other was present, as was the confidence, the sweet and the sour, even the sharing of a regrettable accident that almost compromised my life.

Tenreiro-Sesto almost became a composed name.

Political hopes also united us, mine derived of an early political activism rooted in a Christian vision, and in the tensions and grave omissions of a Venezuela post-Perez-Jimenez; his were related to the drama of the bloody Spanish polarization, a rationalized atheism that I always doubted and a form of Marxism that wanted to be democratic. This allowed us to share expectations: we believed, I thought, in a democracy that was perfectible, deep, and rooted in society as a mechanism of change.

We were on the same side.

Thus transpired our relationship of more than two decades.

Architecture was the background of many efforts generally interrupted by the highs and lows in the search of the goddess architecture in a pre-architectonic country . Many were his contributions, as an architect and as a human being, which I would have liked to do and have achieved half-way. That's why this prize is also, in great measure, his, and his name must, without a doubt, be present in whatever reflection of what I did as an architect since the mid-seventies until the early nineties. And what has been my educational career until my recent retirement. I hereby bear witness and pay tribute to his professional and human dedication, always generous and sacrificed, and only on occasion plagued by mixed-up encounters.


But today the situation has changed.

The Revolutionary myth, embodied by the official rhetoric and maneuvering, is descending upon Venezuela. And we know that the Myth, by definition, dominates the spirits. Everything is surrendered to him and is sacrificed for him. It matters little that it is only a mirage, as all of us who are on this side of Power know (Power blinds, of course). As any person with common sense, not possessed by the Myth, knows.

Myth has become reality in the psyche of many that were once friends or that I once admired. Holding the hand of a military caudillo from the worst of our nineteenth century, people whose elevated sights we never doubted and of whose honesty we once bore witness, have decided to sit at the table with all sorts of opportunists, with mediocre people who feel that their day has come, and the worst aspect of all, an army of assaulters of the public treasure, who act, as were denounced by Fermin Toro in the Valencia Convention of long ago, "as hungry dogs" attacking their prey. And all of it seasoned with the most authentic style and fascist execution that cuts across a militaristic, antidemocratic scene, well illustrated by the gorillas of the regime.

What can one think then?

What to say?

I say, after all possible reflection that I can muster, that I do not count myself amongst those who worship friendship despite all differences. I think there are differences that end a friendship, like that, plainly and with all it implies. And I say too, that those who in this moment of my country cannot distance themselves from the caudillo, reveal deficiencies that I can comprehend, but are placed on a riverbank where I have no friends.

Chapeau, Mr. Tenreiro, Chapeau.

P.S.: Thanks Sydney, for the translation tweaking!