When I set out on this paper trail, recovering and discovering the life and works of Santiago I knew that I’d have to confront the awful chapter in his life that most likely threw his life into chaos and seeming influenced his work & outlook on life. The torture he suffered was never really spoken about in the family but it hung around like an awful stench. It permeated my psyche from my early childhood. Despite being a mere toddler, upon his arrival, I sensed the darkness he brought with him.
In 1975 we moved into 5b Station Road. A large period house with a winding staircase and three floors. In there lived my mother, father, my grandmother, her four other children and an Icelandic couple in the attic. My grandfather was the last to arrive. My memories of that time are fuzzy but strong. He didn’t talk much but once I saw him in the garden with flimsy clothing in the freezing cold. I went to him, as a curious child does.
‘You must fight’ he warned me. ‘Fight and be strong or you will not survive’
At the time I didn’t really understand, and the sight of him pale and thin shivering in the cold snow with that steely determination in his eyes was somehow upsetting.
Although our house was bustling with life and hope, after all, we were all alive and relatively well, there was a sense of unease, sadness, loss and despair.
As I got older and began to learn the truth about what had happened to him; us, that sense of despair and loss deepened. The passing of time has only served to magnify my anger and impotence.
I did not need to know the salacious details of what he’d been subjected too, all one had to do was examine his sculptures and look deep into his eyes to get a sense of the nightmares he’d experienced and witnessed. It did have a name though: Quiriquina
He said in an interview for the Cambridge News in 1976 that he felt that the torturers had ‘robbed him of ten years of his life’ and he was right. The mangled mess that were his smashed ribs grew into a malformation that perforated his bowel. This surely contributed to the cruel cancer that took him from us way too soon.
It’s this sense of injustice and unfinished business that compels me to complete the Santiago Project and somehow allow him to speak through his work.