Marigold Santos turns demons into art

Coven Ring
Work from Coven Ring by Marigold Santos. Photo by Dan Matheson 

“As creatures, we sort of have an inherent multiplicity or plurality that I love to celebrate,” explains interdisciplinary artist Marigold Santos, a few days before the opening of her latest show at Articule. The exhibition, Coven Ring, includes canvases, prints and sculptural installations that draw from cultural worlds as different as witchcraft and boxing. Santos weaves these motifs together to, as she puts it, “reflect a fragmented, multiple self.”

While it may sound like a stretch, these connections are made clear in her work, where witchy, hooded figures in boxing gear conjure mummy or zombie movies and other pop cultural imaginings of the supernatural.

Marigold Santos + HB

Marigold Santos

“I was really interested in Filipino folklore,” she explains, “particularly this character that’s called an Asuang. I wanted to investigate the roots of North American witchcraft and European witchcraft. The Asuang was coming from the filter of colonization of the Philippines and a lot of inverse, pre-existing systems of belief that changed with this influence.

“At around the same time, I started taking up boxing, just recreationally,” she continues.  “While I was doing this, I started spying these weird connections between witchcraft and boxing.”

Conceptually, the work explores boxing and folklore as systems of belief — boxing’s protective gear and structured rule system feel not so very different than superstitious talismans guarding against evil demons, in terms of the actual real-world effectiveness of their protections (*cough* Mike Tyson *cough*).

The folkloric figure of the Asuang (or Aswang) is central in this body work, a female vampire-werewolf hybrid that trolls for unborn human fetuses, which Santos first heard about as a child in the Philippines.

“My first source material is my memories, the folklore that’s been handed down to me orally by my aunts and my uncles, by my direct relatives,” she explains. “And those kinds of memories, they become fabricated over time, too, because you’re really comparing them to what you’d heard when you were a kid to your adult mind. So this kind of reinterpretation or reconfiguration happens. We all do that to all of our memories — I just happen to have a narrative source which is really fun to play around with.”

Asuang

Asuang

Aptly, Santos’s work conjures the notion of haunting: the way that childhood beliefs linger into adulthood, how origin myths follow travelers into the diaspora and the long tails that folklore leaves in the pop cultural imaginary.

“My work is intuitive, but it also has a lot of background,” Santos explains. “It’s not necessary for the viewer to have to know all that background in order to engage with it. I’m always keeping in mind the experience of the viewer — what they’re going to take out of it. It’s not something you can control, but it’s something that you can try to provide, and give them enough ambiguity and points of interest and points of entry for them to come into it and sort of experience it themselves.” ■

Coven Ring is on at Articule (262 Fairmount W.) Oct. 18–Nov. 23. Vernissage Oct. 18, 7 p.m., free

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