A gentle spirit triumphs over an act of terror. Blanca Santander, a Peruvian children’s book author and illustrator, paints magical scenes from her dreams, her visions sharing a message of “hope, peace and happiness”.
With brilliant colors, whimsical faces and scenes of nature fused with the female body, Santander brings to life the timeless legend of Pachamama, Mother Earth. Santander draws the viewer into a world filled with loving kindness and warmth. Old and new coexist. Indigenous and contemporary blend into one. Forms of Mother Earth evolve into voluptuous shapes with forests, waterfalls or mountain vistas or red flashes of anger at careless human pollution of land and water. Santander’s paintings remind the viewer that Mother Earth is as sensual as she is powerful.
Symbols of ancient civilizations and contemporary faith appear throughout her collection. Santander incorporates the Peruvian Nazca Desert geoglyphs of a monkey, spider, hummingbird, tree and labyrinth together with symbols of the moon and sun. Another canvas, Santander paints Mother Earth with a Virgin Mary medallion resting over her heart. Faith, tradition, ancient legacies and spiritual practices find a way to be present.
Finding comfort and happiness in her art, Santander advises artists, “continue to do your art. Follow what you love, you need to do what you love. Time passes fast when you are doing what you love. When you are exhausted at the end of the day, it creates more energy for the next day. The Universe will help you. You will be happy.”
Santander quietly explains how her life changed after a terrifying experience in the hands of the Shining Path or Sendero Luminso, a terrorist organization known for its violence against citizens in the attempt to establish a communist state in Peru. With a bag of art supplies, a trip into the jungle on a motorcycle, Santander and a friend set up for the afternoon to paint wildlife for a children’s illustration book for a Swiss non-profit literacy project. Unknown to them, they had entered the heart of an area controlled by terrorists and were being observed.
The carefree afternoon painting changed instantly when three men approached with weapons and held them hostage for three hours. Arguing among themselves the men debated whether the two women were truly artists or working for a foreign organization.
With a gun held at her stomach and threatened with immediate death, Santander calmly was able to convince them she was an artist. An artist with a passion to paint the wildlife for children. As darkness squeezed out the remaining light, Santander says “miraculously’ she and her friend were released.
Minus their motorcycle they began the silent, slow walk home through the jungle. Their walk became a journey through the blackness and certain death to life, freedom.
Seeking to escape the suffering, sadness and terror for just a short while, Santander decided to visit her mother for just a short visit. She said she was searching for a “break, to relax, feel free and feel peace”. However, the visit turned permanent.
Now, Santander is proud to be an American citizen and grateful for all that is available and offered to her. Though the immigrant life has been challenging, not speaking the language and starting new, Santander has overcome these obstacles. Not loosing sight of her own passion for art, Santander waitressed for a couple of years and saved enough money for art supplies to continue with her art.
With resilience, Santander resumed her career in children’s illustrations and painting by holding workshops and organizing local exhibits. Slowly, more people were exposed to her art. She built a following and is recognized by Barnes and Noble with a licensing agreement for a tote bag for Hispanic Heritage and an award from the National Hispana Leadership Institute, Executive Leadership Training and Mujer Award in Washington, D.C.
“Balance, think positive and do what you love.” Santander reminds. “Work with passion, discipline and focus on what you want. Even in these difficult days and economy, there is always a way.”
Now a wife and mother of a ten year old son, Santander is currently working on her first children’s book Sorrentina and the Magic Closet in the U.S. with the hopes of entering into the U.S. and international book market in 2012.
Santander reflects and says, “For me, my art is from my soul, my heart, my feelings, my dreams and my meditations.” Nothing makes her happier than seeing a child looking at one of her paintings with a smile.
Knowing the amount of human suffering around the world, Santander says her message through her art is for all people to have “hope and happiness”.
By Keri Douglas, writer, photographer, Washington, DC (All material copyright protected.)
Follow me on Twitter @KeriDouglas