Women of Wednesday: Marina Santana on Sexual Taboos and Gender Inequity in Art

Olivia A. Cole
5 min readOct 5, 2016

WOMEN OF WEDNESDAY is a weekly micro-interview series featuring women of color in various industries and walks of life, focused on highlighting their pursuits and making it easy for readers to support their endeavors. If you would like to be featured, please submit your answers to the below five questions here.

Marina Santana, Artist (California)

1. Tell us about the work you’re doing and why it’s important.

I am a visual artist and my work focuses on how in Western society, sex is seen either as a taboo or a marketing ploy and I want to showcase that it can actually be a relatable and beautiful thing through my artwork. Even though all of our intimate experiences are unique, we empathize with them one way or another.
Because of this, I’ve been particularly influenced by Craig Owens postmodern theory of the deconstruction of an idea, or thought of society, to better critically analyze modern assumptions. From there, I create work that is a visual interpretation of this critical deconstruction and begin rebuilding, to create something that is not in stasis but rather changing, evolving, progressing for better or worse. With Owens’s theories of allegory and postmodernism in combination with a personal narrative, I attempt to visualize contemporary society as a whole and its effects on the individual. I would like to see how the individual in turn affects the structure of the whole, how personal narratives add up to change and shape the overall structure. This also provides an opportunity for individual connection or interpretation of the piece.
This society that I am attracted to is Western media’s profound effect on people, particularly women, and the way that they perceive themselves, their bodies, and sex. I want to communicate with my viewers that they should not be shy with sex, art, and most importantly — themselves.

From the artist: “‘Visual Pleasure’ is a lipstick on fabric print which focuses on how Western media uses women in order to provide a pleasurable visual experience for men. The media’s narrative structures its gaze as masculine. The woman is always the object of the reifying gaze, not the bearer of it. Visual Pleasure is my stance on the passive role of women in all forms of media inspired by Laura Mulvey’s essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema and the Bechdel’s Law. I used lipstick since it can be considered the international symbol of the feminine mystique. But instead of using my facial lips, another set of lips were used: the vulva.”

2. What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in pursuing the work that’s important to you?

I personally believe that being a female artist is a huge challenge especially since it’s a male dominated field. Women have been in the arts for decades but only a small percentage are recognized or even represented in galleries and museums. If you want to know about gender inequity in contemporary galleries, I highly encourage you to check out the Gallery Tally which is Micol Hebron’s collaborative poster project. There are so many artists going through similar situations. I want to send a message to everybody, not just women. But I think the list published by the Guerrilla Girls in 1989 says it best about the challenges, entitled The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist.
Another challenge I face is juggling. By that, I mean most artists have to juggle all aspects of art and making a living. Some days it gets hard to do the juggle of what pays the bills, what keeps the art moving and flowing either with creating or promoting. Art is very time consuming on all levels. It is a beast that needs feeding regularly. Making a living for most artists means also doing other things that get in the way of that time. Art is not convenient: to really grow you have to be available to do art or promotions at the oddest times. That makes a regular job a huge problem if you want your art to really grow. So you have to juggle time, money and creative need. Many times, material cost is out of one’s budget as well.

3. What do you need in order to continue your work in the way you envision?

I believe every artist could agree that having a stable income while continuing to create what they envision would be ideal. At the moment, I am grateful to have the workspace through the MFA program that I am in at CSULA but with trying to pay off tuition, books/school supplies, I don’t usually have a budget for materials. It would be wonderful to branch out using new materials especially when I have a specific idea for a possible piece, but it can get expensive with little room for error. I would love to create large-scale pieces, incorporate technology, or even work in silicone, for example, but I have to be realistic right now. Maybe one day, though!

4. Where and how can we support you to make #3 happen?

It’s all about support. If you are financially able then, by all means, buy an art piece! Another big way to support is by attending open studios, art walks, and gallery openings; and not just my own, any local artist. If you can’t purchase a piece by the artist, even just telling them how much you like their work, either in person or via social media, is another way to show your support. I can’t express how much embracing technology is another way to help support the local arts community. Writing about an artist’s work on your blog, sharing one of their pieces on social media, or re-tweeting their posts to your Twitter followers, you are helping to provide them with exposure, which is priceless. If you would like to know more of my work and find out about future events, my website is bloodtearsandlipstick.com

From the artist: “‘Nothing That You Do, You Do Unless I Said (STUMM5 | A3)’ This ceramic piece is an opportunity to merge both the mishandling of consent and cultural dialogue at large through the sculptural aggregation of content, and a healing and cathartic opportunity for myself in the execution. Unfortunately, our current sexual culture suggests that when it comes to sexual communication, women are either playing hard to get or that ‘no’ actually means ‘yes’. Each tile is overlaid with a zipper in a different open-to-close stage and underneath is a replica of the vulva. I am in control of my limits. If I am in the midst of coitus and I say, ‘You know what? No. I don’t want to do this. I changed my mind,’ that means no. Simple as that. It doesn’t matter how far I take it or what I am wearing. No means no.”

5. What is your favorite quote?

Edouard Manet once said, “Faire vrai; laisser dire”, which translates into, “Do what’s true; let them talk.” This taught me to be open to constructive criticism. Be authentic if you want to connect. Be courteous. Be mindful of how you portray yourself. Be aware of your strongest supporters (and equally aware of others’ agendas).