Content Note: discussion of mental health (PTSD, depression, anxiety), misogynistic violence and body image

“Without art, I cease to exist… everybody has their own way of coping and expressing their emotions, and for me, it’s creating”: this powerful statement, courtesy of Visual Artist Adriana Santiago (@mezcaldream), sums up exactly why I have been continuously struck by her work. Full of personal experience, whether drawing from past traumas or her deep appreciation for her hometown, Puerto Rico, Adriana’s work perpetuates an overriding desire to instigate a wave of appreciation of one’s individuality, particularly in relation to mental health. I spoke to Adriana about her upcoming project La Correa, her use of art, particularly photography, as a form of therapy, and her serpentine journey within the art world.

Caterina Bragoli: Firstly, I’d love some facts about you! Where are you from, how did you get into art, and what was your first medium?

Adriana Santiago: My name is Adriana and I’m a Visual Artist, born and raised in Puerto Rico. You know, I was always a creative, weird kid. Ever since I can remember I resorted to art as a way to channel my inner worlds and emotions. My family has an artistic gene going on… my dad’s an artist, my grandma, my uncle, both of my cousins, and so forth, and they’re all eccentric as hell; so it makes sense. Even the ones that aren’t artists seem to have an appreciation for it. So, naturally, while I was growing up, art was very accessible to me.


Drawing was my first medium, then I gradually ventured into other stuff. Art class during my kid years also played a big role in that as well. I vividly remember being taught about Dali, surrealism and other artists in the first grade. We learned about all kinds of stuff. Ranging from bizarre art films, funky paper projects and collages, you name it. I had a friend in school named Richard. Richard had amazing drawing abilities as a kid, and we’d get into competitions of who drew the best. Aside from that, we’d get together and draw magical fantasy worlds on our notebooks. I remember learning about Transylvania for the first time because of him. Now, I am navigating this journey in a very unconventional way, learning all I can by the masters. Be it reading, taking workshops, networking… and slowly building my portfolio off of that.

NYC, 4th JulyAdriana Santiago

CB: You’ve mentioned before that street photography in particular is grounding for you – could you explain more about why you love it so much?


AS: I struggle with severe social anxiety… more so during the tough times we’re living in as a collective. There are days that I can’t even fathom getting out of bed… let alone step out that door. Facing others is usually a struggle. In that way, photography serves as a grounding vessel for me in the darkest of times. Take a lap around the neighborhood, soak in those sun rays, breathe, smell the grit… live and appreciate the moment, photograph, rinse and repeat. I come back home, and I’m born anew. Photography is courage. In the 6th grade, I was given my first camera. A cute little Nikon CoolPix. I remember taking it with me everywhere. Taking pictures and videos of everything that I found interesting. Little did I know it was definitely the start of something in my life… as years went by, I acknowledged the fact that this indeed was my driving force. Without art, photography and film, in specific, life seemed very dull.

NYC, 4th JulyAdriana Santiago

CB: You’ve taken a street photography workshop in NYC – what was New York like and how did this develop your skills?

AS: The time I spent over there created a shift in perspective within me that needed to occur. I had never travelled by myself, and that alone was a huge step for me. We spent many hours under the scorching hot sun taking photographs, venturing around the city. Our first endeavour took place in Coney Island during the 4th of July… it was wild. Never had I seen so many people gather on a beach at the same time… lots of Puerto Ricans and salsa taking place, people walking around their pet snakes and turtles, infinite United States flag attire. Wildin’. The act of planning out my trip and with a goal in mind was precious. I actually had the opportunity to visit again a week ago, and it was even better. It was a constant test regarding my own personal boundaries and creativity. I was surrounded by like-minded souls, artists… rad people in general and that filled with me so much joy.


CB: What about Puerto Rico do you find inspiring?

Puerto RicoAdriana Santiago
Puerto RicoAdriana Santiago

AS: Absolutely everything. Puerto Rico is solidarity and love…it’s the fight for freedom and independence. It is community. We’ve been through thick and thin. Our island, being colonized by Spain in 1493, to then later becoming a United States colony in 1898… is enough for me to say that it’s history of being terrorized, owned by others and it’s resilience, will always be my source of courage and strength, it runs in our blood. Fun fact: Puerto Rico is the world’s OLDEST colony. On the morning of September 20th, 2017, we were struck by the deadly Category 5 Hurricane Maria… we were never taken seriously by our corrupt government, let alone the United States. There were more than 3,057 fatalities, and this was only known a year or so afterwards…we’ve later been struck by earthquakes, shortages of water and electricity, constant femicides… There are so many people on the island still recovering from these catastrophic events and a very, very incompetent government. Puerto Rico, after these events, be it Maria and it’s record of being controlled, has experienced a huge increase in suicide and overall decline in mental health. It is my duty to spread this information as much as I can to those who are completely oblivious to our life-long situation.

Puerto RicoAdriana Santiago

CB: You use digital collages, which are a really creative way of showcasing your experimentalism. What made you want to use this format to showcase your work?

AS: Collages are so much fun and I like how they create this weird visual dilemma that might be very striking to the human eye. It’s about putting pieces together, experimenting with discrepancies and superimposition. People are used to seeing and understanding things that are simple to understand. When one puts the pieces of the puzzle together, there is so much symbolism and emotion that tend to surface. It’s all about embodying the “logic” behind psychological development… it’s about the constant growth and evolution of the human mind. Collage provides a new way to reassess what we’re all used to. It’s about expression, transformation. It is meaning, it’s personal, it’s innovation. It’s visceral.


CB: I’m so excited about your upcoming project – is there anything we can expect to see?


AS: La Correa is a project that explores ancestral trauma, sexuality and turbulent upbringings through my work, as a way to cope with my mental health and coming to terms with the past. Expect lots of intensity and topics that aren’t brought up enough, but that do indeed need to be talked about more often, with the fullest transparency one could imagine. It’s mainly inspired by my journal entries and of course… a messy brain. Putting the pieces together little by little, trying to make sense of it all.

CB: You have spoken in the past about the ever changing nature of your mental health – do you find that art forms a kind of creative outlet, or a way of coping?

AS: Definitely. Without art, I cease to exist… everybody has their own way of coping and expressing their emotions, and for me, it’s creating. It took me a while to realize this. The moments in which I’ve been the lowest mentally, are moments in which I’m not taking the time to do art. It’s crazy because that is simply the way my body chooses to express itself. One can only hold on to the dark matters of self for so long… it starts to eat you alive if you repress these powerful feelings, and that’s where art comes into place.

CB: Do you draw from your experiences of mental health issues as inspiration and if so, would you mind detailing some of your experiences?

AS: The way I’ve been able to handle my C-PTSD, depression and anxiety has been through my art. It’s liberating, to be able to put these hurtful experiences onto paper. In moments where words don’t exist… or, where I feel like I don’t exist, that's when my art seems to shine… and simply sharing this experience with others, though scary and daunting, is very rewarding.


CB: One of my favourite pieces of yours is your highly personal collage on body image – is tackling body image and beauty standards important to you?


Mountain View

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AS: Of course. Being a womxn is difficult and oftentimes dangerous in this world we’re living in. The amount of expectation that is put on ourselves ever since the day we are born is truly astonishing. To be hairless and perfect, not to be independent, to be seen as merely an object for men’s own desire. To have “respect” for ourselves… We are constantly being used and not taken seriously, it is all in compliance to men and the patriarchy. To speak for yourself, to be autonomous is seen as bossy and stubborn. As “impure”… How dare she not comply with your misogynist standards? How dare she do whatever the hell she wants? How dare she be free? Womxn are not here to make you happy, womxn are not here to please you… and they never will. Womxn are powerful and magical, and are fighting to be… free. The misogyny that exists in Puerto Rico is rampant. Womxn are being killed on a day to day basis over here for being a womxn. This reality is what motivates me to continue to educate others the way I can, utilizing my art as a vessel of truth and security.

La CorreaAdriana Santiago

CB: Art in any form is often something that people go to for comfort, particularly after suffering from mental health issues. Are you looking to provide a source of comfort or relatability for others going through a hard time?

La CorreaAdriana Santiago

AS: That is the one thing I wish to provide others with. I want my art to be a breath of fresh air to whomever might need it. A sense of comfort and reassurance that you are definitely not alone in this crazy world, even if it might not seem like it. And a lot of times it’s like that. There is somebody out there going through the same thing you are. The amount of stigma that exists around mental health is debilitating and though I am glad at the “advances” there have been, some days it just feels like we’re stuck in the same exact loop of shame, shame, shame. People that struggle with their mental health are usually deemed as “crazy” in this world full of normies compliant to the system. I wish to be able to serve as a catalyst of love and acceptance in this movement. You are not crazy, and what you are feeling is completely valid. I’m here with you, and I love you.

I have every faith that Adriana is already the catalyst of love that she wants to be: when looking at her work, I feel at home in the spiralling line work, bold, clashing colours and exhibition of a complicated yet empowering sense of femininity. La Correa is only the beginning.