Imagine you're in high school again. The bell rings and you're off to third period art class -- that's the one where you have that eccentric art teacher, like Peter Santa-Maria (or, as his students refer to him, Mr. S).
The kids at the public school where Mr. S teaches visual art know full and well that just about any topic is liable to come up at some point during his classes.
Like politics, terrorism, and genocide. You know, normal artsy stuff like that.
After seeing Santa-Maria's provocative work at a pop-up gallery during Wynwood's Second Saturday Art Walk last weekend, we sat down with the artist at a South Miami Starbucks to discuss his fearless political art endeavors. Sketchbook in hand, Santa-Maria donned a black t-shirt screen-printed with a blindfolded bald eagle with its beak tied shut. "Ah, but, you see," he countered, "I'm not fearless."
Just to clarify, Mr. S. doesn't openly unleash his own views about politics, terrorism, and genocide in his art class. Instead, he uses hypothetical situations to inspire his students to discuss their own takes on important political and sociological happenings as they occur -- things that he feels greatly affect their current lives and futures.
Since he can't fully express his thoughts in the classroom (far too provocative for most public school administrations), Santa-Maria uses his extensive skills in painting, drawing, and political history to showcase the nitty-gritty of reality, as he sees it.
Exhibit A: The two paintings you see above of a bloody Dick Cheney and President Barack Obama. The one of Cheney is called "Dick Cheney Believes that Killing Innocent Children is OK As Long As He Benefits From it. (But If He Doesn't That's Cool Too)." The Obama painting is entitled, "Barack Obama Will Bomb Whoever the Fuck He Wants Without Permission From the Congress And That's OK Because He Does Not Look Like Dick Cheney."
"I never want to offend people," Santa-Maria said. "I don't want to be bratty... I'm not trying to be shocking for shock's sake."
Still, acknowledging the heftiness to his pieces, Santa-Maria wasn't surprised when a man walked into the Wynwood gallery that showcased his works last Saturday and said, "Fuck you, man."
"You always get less civil rights, not more," he told us. That said, his painting called "The TSA Gropes Your Wives and Kids in Front of You so that You Will Learn to Submit to Authority," touches on the very subject. He asked, "How do I reconcile being touched by strangers to my four year-old daughter?"
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It's not his art, but "the acceptance of normality that's dangerous [...] this is just ink and paper."
"I feel obliged to do the art and dedicate my time to these kinds of subjects, but in the end, I'm a drop in the bucket."
Again, this is coming from the high school art teacher who first told us he wasn't fearless. Still, it certainly takes some cojones to put this stuff out there for the world to see. Perhaps we need to stop taking the usual one-dimensional perspective of art and attempt to dig a little deeper -- to see what it's really telling us.