Nallieli Santamaria is a Mexican American installation artist who builds sculptural spaces and objects made of plant-based materials, bringing them to life using video projection, sound, and performance. Her purpose is to use visual art, community gatherings, and ceremony to create spaces for the healing and transformation of personal and ancestral trauma from white supremacy, misogyny, and the Othering of nature and non-human beings.
Since January 2020, Nallieli has led a weekly women’s circle focused on manifesting personal intentions and social change, and hosts monthly gatherings to foster a community of interconnectedness, opportunities for somatic embodiment, and the joyful experience of mutual sharing and discovery.
Nallieli is currently enrolled in the MFA program at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University, has trained at the Bard College | International Center of Photography in New York, and holds a MA in Organizational Behavior from New York University and a BA in Psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles. She has served as visiting faculty teaching design thinking and innovation to graduate and undergraduate students at the University of Granada in Spain and the Centro de Estudios Superiores de Diseño de Monterrey in Mexico. Her work was included in the exhibition and publication, #ICP Concerned: Global Images for Global Crisis produced by the International Center of Photography Museum in New York, NY, and group exhibitions at the SMFA at Tufts University Weems Center Gallery in Boston, MA, the Lesley University Lund Gallery in Cambridge, MA, and Google headquarters in Mountain View, CA. She lives and works in Boston, MA.
I build structures that feel like wombs: round, dark, comfortable spaces that flicker with intimate fragments, rhythmic movements, color and light. For years I have been thinking about how to access bodily wisdom, ancestral knowledge, reparenting, rebirth, midwifery, and motherhood. Circles are present in different forms, as is the number nine, referencing the time of gestation. I use plant-based materials to make the structures –– tree branches, leaves, and paper –– and evoke the feeling of soil and roots; these are brought to life using video projection, sound, and performance. Found recordings of the bodies and voices of animals that shed, metamorphosize, or are matrilineal appear frequently in the visuals and soundscapes I create, as do Mesoamerican indigenous symbolism and ritual. Once the mood of dream-state fluidity and textures is established, I use questions, stories, songs, guided meditation, and ceremony to further arouse emotion and provoke inquiry into our personal and collective experience.
My work is intended to create visceral experiences that invite the viewer’s memories and inner knowing to emerge, while making space for grieving, empowerment, and transformation. The urge to build these spaces is a personal one, as throughout my life I have witnessed and experienced how the trauma from white supremacy and misogyny is passed down through generations, gets trapped in our bodies, alienates us from a sense of belonging, and causes physical, emotional, and relational illness. In my journey, I have found it necessary to give myself what I didn’t receive in childhood, allow myself to feel the extent of my grief and anger over injustice and trauma, and to seek out teachers to learn the skills for living that I missed. Along the way, I grew into a spiritual and art practice that embraces trees and animals as collaborators and guides. I believe deep healing happens in the body, not the mind, and I prioritize the senses in all my work, using elements of movement, touch, smell, sight, and sound.
Headshot by Naail Ali, BFA '23