Artists Vicente Telles and Brandon Maldonado are forging new links in the chain of the continuing story of the people of New Mexico. Telles is firmly rooted in the santero tradition (the making of santos, or images of saints), while Maldonado describes his work as being heavily inspired by New Mexican folk art. Yet they see their work converging on the critical question: What can and should Santero art be now? This question is explored in a new MOCRA exhibition that introduces the work of Telles and Maldonado to St. Louis audiences.
The practice of making and venerating santos originated in Spain and was carried to territories that fell under Spanish colonial rule. New Mexican santeros (makers of santos) developed distinctive approaches that diverged from the models they found in imported oil paintings, statues and devotional prints. The Santero tradition flourished from the mid-18th to late-19th centuries before falling into a period of decline. It recovered, however, and thrives today, responding to the needs of both religious devotees and art aficionados.
Santos continue to be essential to the devotional practices of families and communities, but they are also appreciated as art objects. Telles and Maldonado recognize the classic santeros as artists with agency, who made adaptive choices in response to complex social concerns and matters of faith for their communities. Telles and Maldonado similarly approach the interwoven threads of contemporary New Mexican culture as informed, thoughtful practitioners. What aesthetic value does Santero art offer to the wider art world today? How can it be released from the confines of a religious folk form and redeemed from commodification? Not content with reiterating the past, Telles and Maldonado passionately engage a living tradition to tell stories for our times.