Dual theories of life’s beginnings inform Marikit Santiago’s work. The Western Sydney-based artist grew up hearing two stories of creation—one Catholic, one Filipino—which inspired the painting Original Sin. It shows Santiago depicting herself, pregnant and nude, with one child in utero and two more by her side. “That work was about considering the Christian doctrine of original sin, in that all mankind inherits this sin from Adam and Eve,” says Santiago. “That prompted me to think about what is inherited by my children, and considers the guilt I feel as a mother.”
The exhibition For us sinners includes Original Sin alongside new paintings which feature Santiago, her husband, and her three children as subjects. It’s a deliberate choice that rejects the Anglocentric nature of classical painting. “I love the figurative painting of Botticelli and Michelangelo’s work, but I do criticise them for being fair-skinned, and I do criticise that all the women are portrayed for the male gaze,” she says. “I always make sure that the gaze meets the viewer, and I paint the skin tones as they are. It gives me great power and also makes me very vulnerable to paint myself nude, but in order to say what I want to say about my skin tone, gender, and role as a mum and woman, it has to be my body—the body that nourished my children.”
Santiago hopes that the exhibition will challenge viewers to consider representations of race and gender, and also be a welcoming space for families. “My show allows that gap for families to come in and feel like anyone can be engaged in art,” she says. “Art isn’t a place for the elite—it’s for everyone.”
This article was originally published in the March/April 2022 print edition of Art Guide Australia.