past exhibitions

Paula Santiago

November 11 - January 23, 2000

Paula Santiago, the artist, melds the worlds of darkness and light, of time unremembered and today, of the ancient art of the pre-Columbian cultures and her own modern Mexico. She began, however, in an ordinary way. Born in 1969, Santiago grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico, and enrolled in industrial engineering at the local Universidad Panamericana. She was a good student but engineering didn't suit her. At age twenty-one she left for Paris. She would become an artist. She took private lessons in painting and drawing; she studied French language and literature at the Sorbonne; she haunted the museums. She moved to London where she worked in an artist's studio and, once again, she haunted the museums. She returned to Mexico and enrolled in more studio classes, and she immersed herself in the early art of Mesoamerica: the pre-Columbian art of the Olmec, the early Maya, the Toltec, the Mixteca, and the Aztec cultures. She seemed to be searching for her rightful place.

By the time Paula Santiago was twenty-three, she set aside painting, not wanting to make images on canvas that represent something. She needed to work on her own, to begin to create from her interior self. "I didn't want to work with concepts; I wanted to work with my life."

She was only twenty-seven when she won a residency at the ArtPace Foundation for Contemporary Art in San Antonio, Texas. And she was struggling fiercely to find her own voice. Having given up paint and brushes, Santiago went back to making art with her hands, to embroidery, a means plucked from childhood. Still driven to find her own voice, Paula Santiago consciously chose to go all the way into her inner being, a sanctuary of deep but dazzling darkness.

Paula Santiago's inward journey began in San Antonio and consumed the next five years of her life. Even her materials became deeply personal. She began to extract her own blood, using it to stain her surfaces. Venous blood, depleted of oxygen on its course through the body, is a reddish color that age renders to earth tones. Setting aside traditional embroidery threads and floss, she took up human hair -- her own, her grandmother's, and that of her friends. Hair became her thread of unity, her means of joining disparate parts. She found it enigmatic, protecting the body while simultaneously growing away from it. Furthermore, because hair carries the memory of the body's past, it could speak to time's passing. This was the work she showed at the North Dakota Museum of Art.