“Santa Fe is a beautiful place..” With many underlying narratives.
Located in the outskirts of the city, Santa Fe Art Institute, was my home for four months. A truly beautiful building, designed by the internationally acclaimed Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta, equipped with studios, a gallery, ample living spaces. Since SFAI was my home, staff and residents were my family for those four months. Everyone has been really kind, helpful and mindful to create a safe space for everyone to enjoy their time. We had dinners, we visited each other's homes and studios, we collaborated and helped each other on different projects. More importantly, everyone was eager to discuss and explore the themes of the residency not only on a personal, but on a collective level as well. There is an apparent sense of a small community surrounding SFAI and the people that work in and around it.
SFAI is also located on the old (now closed) Santa Fe Art and Design University Campus. It was a bit “disheartening” to see the empty campus and imagine it flooded with students in the past, but on the same time, it is a really exciting space to explore and there is an interesting discourse taking place between SFAI, members of the local community and the city regarding the possible future developments. Parts of my project in SFAI were engaging in this discourse as well.
The city is beautiful. It is small and peaceful, with traditional adobe houses and breathtaking views to the mountains and the natural landscape surrounding it. I still feel magnified from the extreme natural beauty that I encountered around Santa Fe both in the desert and on the mountains. Santa Fe is surrounded by canyons, hot springs, rivers, valleys, mountain forests, small towns and villages that are more than worth exploring.
The area surrounding Santa Fe was occupied for at least several thousand years by indigenous peoples who built villages several hundred years ago on the current site of the city. It was known by the Tewa inhabitants as Ogha Po'oge ("White Shell Water Place"). The city of Santa Fe (meaning "holy faith" in Spanish) was founded by Spanish colonists in 1610. The history of the city itself, as well as that of the wider region, with many Native American Pueblos, but also Los Alamos, the Mexico border wall, the White Sands missile range and many other contested sites create a mosaic of intense, underlying contrasting sociopolitical narratives.
I wanted to involve people of the local community/ies in my project and I am very happy that I was able to do that. Locals were really kind, friendly and open and I feel grateful that I can call some of them friends by now. Even so, involving the local community was much more difficult than what I expected. People in Santa Fe have their own pace, their own families, obligations and life's ups and downs. For that reason, doing participatory work needs careful planning, even prior to someone's arrival in the US. And of course collaborations with locals should be treated with consideration and respect towards their own personal histories.