Santiago Bose 1949-2002
Santiago Bose died suddenly in Baguio, Philippines in early December last year, much too young.
He was one of the major artists of the Asia Pacific region, only half way through his life and all of us lose from this early death. His ashes are placed with those of his friend and friendly rival Roberto Villanueva who also died too young, in the mountains of northern Luzon. The Philippines arts and wider community mourned him with a number of tribute events both in Baguio, his home, and in Manila.
We remember Santiago as the person larger than life. He was brave, infinitely creative, intelligent, humorous, personable and passionate. His overwhelming personality was linked to his artwork and his life in art, which for most of us will be his main legacy. His personal energy and vision led to the founding of the Baguio Arts Festival which he presided over in a loose but focused way for most of its long and successful life. He put the hill town of Baguio on the arts map. Throughout his life he led other arts communities to new projects, in the Philippines, here in Australia, in North America and elsewhere. He could not but include people in his world.
The humanist forces that pushed him are central to his own art. His work was about people and their individual and wider struggles. He didn't illustrate this - though when his iconography of local Filipino signs and histories was explained, that too was part of it – but rather re-created the energy and chaos of human existence through large scale installations that brought layer upon layer of experience together. Central symbols of belief were mixed with the flotsam of human life with a complexity of intelligence and emotion that I find hard to equal. These works charged through the centre of the more modest and contained and made much around seem flaccid and puerile.
Santiago had lived in many places around the world, including eight years in New York. His work was exhibited from the early 1970s in overseas museums and major events, including in the First Asia Pacific Triennial in Brisbane in 1993 and the Adelaide Festival in 1994. More recently he had focused on painting but still continuing the central concerns – those huge ideas – which he had focused on all his life.
Santiago's work came from his strong Filipino roots – he was an Ilocano from the mountains – and their stories and beliefs. He talked of making these mysteries understandable to others, of 'blending' the old stories with 'new paths'. Santiago's partner of the last ten years, Pat Hoffie, talks of him as a magician with all the tricks, and the importance to him of being a conduit for both people and ideas. A central figure for his community, his family, and the wider world.