Filemón Santiago (b. 1958)
Filemón Santiago was trained early on in Oaxaca at the Rufino Tamayo Studio. It was there that the artist learned painting and printmaking in the native Oaxacan style. However, it was only after spending twelve years living and producing art in Chicago (1978-1990) that his subject matter expanded to include classic art historic themes and urban experience. His work is often seen as a part of Mexico’s Social Realist tradition in that he often depicts the universal misfortunes of life.
In the painting The Nahual Stealing a Goat,
Santiago is depicting one of Mexico’s favorite and fantastic folklore creatures. The nahual
(also spelled nagual
) has been the subject of many tales and indigenous myths throughout Mexico for generations. This magical and cunning anthropomorphic being has been depicted on ceramic vessels, carved in wood and painted on furniture to help explain the mysterious disappearance or inexplicable rescue of objects. In his piece, Santiago sets up a scene in which the lion-like nahual
is clearly visible to the domestic animals huddled together in fear, but not to the farmer who has come down from his home to investigate. It is only the dog, the farmer’s animal “assistant,” who seems to enjoy the fact that neither his intellect nor his tools allow the man to see what is really happening. The concept of two worlds (the mundane and the spiritual, the knowable and the inexplicable) existing side by side is a fundamental aspect of Mexico’s indigenous cosmology.
Again in the work entitled Before the Unseen
, Filemón Santiago renders a setting composed of two worlds existing side by side, this time depicted as the private world and the public world. The scene allows us to witness the intense meditative state of a man in communion with the spiritual worldan inner, unseen dimension. With his hands in a prayerful position, he takes the weight off his feet and leans on a holy water font just inside the entrance to a church. Out in the public domain, the only other silent witnesses to this occasion are two loyal companions that seemingly understand and participate in both worlds. This kind of intense prayer is reminiscent of Mexico’s manda
tradition when someone vows to do something extra special (usually participation in a pilgrimage) for a revered Saint, the Virgin or Christ, in exchange for a miracle or life changing favor.