Carmen Reategui

Visual Artist

Lesson in (spiritual) anatomy

Gustavo Buntinx

For some profane history, the protagonist role of painting is played out in the struggle between the spot and the line. For the sacred history, however, the interest is not focused on the protagonist role but rather on the agony between representation and presence.

Agony is not death but rather a fight to the death with death itself. And in the awareness of that trance rises the religious drive. Which is also sexual: the battle between Eros and Thanatos, where our desire is redefined incessantly. And it elevates and degrades itself in complementary torsions, on which art nurtures itself in a primary way. Ascent and descent of the soul on account of beauty (Leopoldo Marechal).

An art that sublimates or somatizes and in the same gesture interlaces both effusions. In those liminal areas the unusual work of Carmen Reátegui is located. Between the sensual and the spiritual. Or the mystic and the aesthetic. Sometimes, it is true, an aestheticism pokes out. But even over it, the paradox of an anxiety, a turbidity, that needs to be spilled, is sustained. Ennobled.

That is the origin, perhaps, of the attention to eroticism –unleashed and repressed- in the ideal of the Catholic sanctity. Particularly Santa Rosa de Lima, our exemplary sadomasochist, but also the personification of a spirituality that is radical and proper: creole, crossbreed, even Andean, in its multiple transfigurations.1 Sarita Colonia is one of them. Another one, far more classic, is the austere but exalted portrait of her made by Francisco Laso towards 1860, using his own wife as a model. A calm image of mystical dreaminess, traversed, nevertheless, by sexual suggestions. Such as in the genital configuration of the praying hands over the pubis of the chaste woman, elevating her eyes and pleas to the disquieting forms of Baby Jesus. Who blesses her, naked, from the high heavens of the canvas (110 inches). Another Christ, crucified, hangs insinuating, under her bosom.2

The uterine Rose offers the Son her virginity, Carmen states, who additionally perceives in her fingers and in the unbalancing twist of her knees and shoulders the architectonic idea of a cathedral. In an incisive inspiration, the painter disembowels that icon, stripping her white tunic of any corporality, until converting it into a great hanging cloth that mimics some Zurbaran version of the Veronica, the true icon of the apocryphal gospels. And at the same time it mimics the Holy Shroud. Two paradigmatic instances of the indicial –the footprint, the trial, the rest- interpreted in a divine manner. An aquiropoieta: the image not created by the hand of man (or woman ) but rather through a sacred imprint. The semblance impregnated (not painted) by the transfiguration of the blood and the perspiration of Christ on the cloth that wipes His face and the robe that shrouds His spoils, far too human. All presence, no representation.

But it is not the Holy Face or the Messianic Body that which emerges from this Reátegui canvas, but rather the mystic rose that breaks out in the lower belly of the composition. As a menstrual spot that reveals its most intimate associations. The spiritual anatomy of our libido.

Mystic and carnal: there is a surprising complexity, secular and religious, in this formidable iconic condensation. A sensorial art in extremis, but reflexive and theological in essence. Renovating and radical and subversive for our era of free profanations and banal sacrileges.

Times of terminal individualization, erected against all ideals of community and communion. In that context the personal restlessness for God –for His suffering face, for His victimized body- inevitably becomes social. And political.

This is evidenced by the proposal to prolong the work in an accumulation of potatoes carved in Huamanga stones – that paradigmatic Andean alabaster- and offered at the feet of the great erect painting. A tellurism finally syncretic: the allusion is to the Cerro San Cristóbal, the great apu or protective mountain of pre-Hispanic Lima, later christened and today symbol of the traditional city. This current scenario of dramatic representation of the Vía Crucis was, 500 years ago, the field of terrible battles during which the crosses of the Conquest were destroyed and erected time and again.

Complexity and contradiction of our history. Line and spot.


  1. Ramón Mujica Pinilla. Rosa Limensis. Mystic, political and iconography surrounding the patron of America. Lima: Peruvian Central Bank, Economic Culture Fund, French Institute of Andean Studies, 2001
  2. Gustavo Buntinx. “El indio alfarero” (The potter Indian) as ideological construction. Variations on an issue by Francisco Laso”. In: Gustavo Curiel, Renato Gonzáles Mello and Juana Gutiérrez Haces (eds.). Art, history and identity in America. Comparative versions. Mexico: Institute of Aesthetic Research (IIE, on account of its acronym in Spanish), Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), 1994. Tome I, pages 69 – 101. (Acts of the 17th International Colloquium on the History of Art, organized at Zacatecas by the IIE and the International Committee d’Histoire de l’Art, in 1993).