Maruch Sántis Gómez

Maruch Sántis, Creencias/Beliefs, 1999

Maruch Sántis, Creencias/Beliefs, 1999

Maruch Sántis Gómez (b.1975, Chiapas, Mexico) lives in an isolated community in Chiapas in the south of Mexico. The region has a history of struggle for independence, and its political climate continues to be tense. In the artist’s village, however, life goes on much as it has for generations. Local traditions are very much a part of everyday reality, while the world of mass media – and certainly that of contemporary art – is unknown.

At one point in her career, Santiz Gomez took part in an education programme organised by her local church. It was not considered appropriate that she should develop literacy skills, since that would have had a destabilizing effect on her family. (her husband, for example, had no opportunity for such luxuries.) Instead the nun gave her a camera with which to record her world. There was no training in the conceptual or compositional possibilities of photography: simply basic instruction in the practical use of the instrument. What followed was entirely her own creative application of the medium. She decided to document the traditional wisdom of her people. These well-known sayings proved practical advice for almost any situation. For example: 

   To call back home a lost dog, you place a small clay jar in the middle of the doorway, you tap the mouth of the jar, saying the name of the dog three times: Come, here's your house! Come here's you house! Come here's your house! is what you say. The dog will come back the next day or the third day. If you don't have a jar you can blow into a gourd three times.

In each case the artist expressed these ideas through objects that everyone would have in their home. The photographs included in TRACE - which were mostly very direct and focused - were not illustrations of the sayings, but rather concrete manifestations of their application. In the case of the lost dog, the jar and the gourd were centrally framed in their place by the door, and were seen from above as if from a kneeling position of a person about to tap the jar.

Maruch Sántis Gómez at Liverpool Biennial 1999

Gelatin silver print, 30 photographs
Courtesy the artists, Galeriá OMR, Mexico City and The Mexican Cultural Institute of New York