Ana Lozada is an illustrator and writer originally from Venezuela. Her illustrated fictional journal, Failed State, chronicles the current crisis in Venezuela through the eyes of a young artist named Daya. Drawing on personal and familial experiences, Ana’s work is a window into the emotional realities beneath the headlines.
We sat down with Ana to discuss how her experiences gave rise to Failed State.
On what it was like growing up in Venezuela
We had to move around a lot because of the way insecurity and crime spread around the city [of Caracas]. In the 90s, I distinctly remember that one time we were at a bakery and a gang of people started beating on this person who was sitting next to us. We were super close and one of them pulled a gun. My mom tried to pull us into the inside of the bakery, and I don’t remember much after that. But it was that sort of crime that led us to move around.
While I have wonderful memories of the city of Caracas and everything you could eat there, the way that the weather was always nice, and how nature was very much integrated into the city, it was also difficult from that perspective.
There was also the growing divide that happened when Chavez got elected. My family started to grow apart and had disagreements, and that added to the tensions and sense of danger that I grew up with.
On moving to the United States at age 11
I was mildly bullied. I remember getting pushed around in the halls. I was quiet all the time and did as much as possible not to interact with anybody, and that made me sort of a target. I did try to socialize with the people that could speak Spanish at my school, which was fairly privileged — an international middle school. And for some reason I ended being ostracized even by the Spanish-speaking community.
I don’t look at these experiences with anger. But I felt pretty alone. Part of the reason my mom was feeling depressed was because she was feeling sick, and once we moved, we found out that it was cancer. So she had leukemia for a while and that depression turned into an aggression towards everybody else in the family. There was this big divide at home due to that. I think we were all trying to be supportive, we just didn’t know how to, because she had taken care of us well up until that point, and it was shocking.
School felt very hostile. Home felt very hostile — increasingly more hostile as my mom and step father’s fights got more violent. And my sister was too young to rely on, so I remember withdrawing quite a bit at the time. I just read a lot of manga. A lot of manga.
On developing an art style
My art started as just scribbles and drawings of my parents that looked like potatoes. And I really liked drawing animals — I liked dogs and wolves and drew those a lot. Then it started getting more manga-inspired, and my style lost some flavor due to that, but I digress. It was a good learning experience to try and make things that were more sequential. I had tons of little lined notebooks with characters and stories that were terrible.
In Austria, [my] art program was geared towards fine arts. So when I came in with a storytelling, comics-making mindset, my teacher was like, “They’re not the same thing. That stuff is not art.” And I was like, it can be?
But I’m glad I had the art class that I did, because it led me to having an interest in forms of art that were outside my comfort zone. I just wish they hadn’t completely dismissed what I liked at the time.
On the experiences that led to Failed State
During the first couple of years of being here in New York, I had to go back and forth handing my mom money. There was no way I could transfer money because Venezuelan banks were collapsing. I would frequently fly in with toilet paper, candy, and things [my family] wouldn’t have. I remember specifically bringing a bottle with a charcoal filter because they had to drink water from the tap, which in Venezuela is super dirty, so she had to boil it and filter as best she could. They were sick all the time during that period.
I realized that I had turned attention away from Venezuela and my identity to this greater exploration of the world, looking for a place to belong to. I felt like I was lost, and I wasn’t making the kind of art that I should be.
On the worsening condition of Venezuela
I hadn’t realized how bad it got. It was in the background, and I wanted to keep it that way, because every time my mom would say something, it was horrifying. It wasn’t really from the perspective of the country as a whole exactly — I didn’t realize the implications of me leaving [Venezuela] and what that meant for the rest of my family.
I later learned that my sister went through a very traumatic experience. At school, and she was experiencing the same thing that I felt when I moved to the U.S., where she was alienated and couldn’t speak Spanish. But instead of bullies that would push you in the hall, she encountered kids that wanted to harm her for real, and they had arms.
I will forever feel guilty about that episode. It absolutely did happen because she was perceived as some kind of elite American amalgamation of everything that certain Venezuelans hated. Chavez and his people really demonized U.S. imperialism, which I do not like, and I understand where that comes from. But it feels like it was weaponized to harm people like us, and members of my family.
This excerpt has been edited for clarity and length. Listen to the full interview on Soundcloud.