Carmen Reategui

Visual Artist

Taita Sara


Theology becomes once again a praxis of radical validity. Of radical urgency in our liminar, transitional, transgenic times. An unpredictable threshold for the human condition, for its own nature in uncertain mutation. For the new spirituality that thus emerges, intuitive and disperse among the crossed signs of catastrophe and resurgence.

It cannot be casual that the sexualized image of Jesus is once again in the vortex of so many current artistic processes, in an analogy of the post-human revolution of this era with the humanist revolution of the Renaissance: that singular moment of the West in which from the plastic art the ostentation of Jesus’s genitals, from the crib to the tomb, are generalized, even associating intimate disturbances and mystical mysteries when linking erection and resurrection. The manifest potency of the Incarnation in all its fullness and its glory.

An ostentatio genitalium comparable to the canonic ostentatio vulnerum, the exhibition of the wounds of Christ. So argues Leo Steinberg in the revolutionary 1983 study that analyzes hundreds of those images, not as mere illustrations of textual doctrines but rather as A primary source and live force in the new forging of the religious thought. An importance of the iconic reflection that would seem to reedit itself in Peru by means of various impacting expressions. From the erudite, neo-ba- roque promiscuities of the project A Imagen y Semejanza (In the Image and Likeness), for example, up to the popular currents explored by Christian Bendayán. Passing by the film exaltation of MadeinUSA, the initial movie by Claudia Llosa. And culminating now in Taita Sara, the last one, the most charged-up and dense of the multiple offerings with which Carmen Reátegui has permeated the limits between art and reli- gion, between representation and ritual, throughout the millennium that is beginning.


The limits also among cultures and among races and between genders. Beginning with the title itself: “taita” is a Spanish but archaic expression that Quechua incorporates and updates as an affectious paternal denomination, and in particular for the celestial Father. “Sara” is the native name, the original name of corn, the plant that originated in America. The plant which fruit gathers male and female suggestions. But chance does not exist, and Sara is also the wife of Abraham, whoeven barren and old, shall know of the fecundity announced by Yaveh (Genesis 18:9- 15) such as in an Old Testament premonition of the greater Annunciation referred to in the gospels (Lucas I: 26-38, Matthew I: 18-21).

Polysemy placed at the service of a different crossbreeding in Carmen’s works, mixed in also in her condensations of senses, languages, even of techniques: photography, impression, oil, carving, and gilding come together for a subjugating reinterpretation of the sculptural painting of Andrea Mantegna, her drawing almost stone-like, consecrated forever in her admired image of the lying Christ. The carnal body of Jesus transfigured by Reátegui by means of the pictorial infiltrations of corns that flutter and peek between His feet and legs and in the lower belly. Until finally materializing themselves in the great steel and crystal sarcophagus that under the canvas contains another shroud overflowing with marble corns. The Andean reaffirmation, subverted, of the most serious illusionism in the classic Mediterranean.

The painting chosen could not be more pertinent. Lamentation over the Dead Christ was painted by Mantegna at the end of the 15th Century, perhaps for her own funeral chapel. An overwhelming masterpiece that even now surprises due to the compositional violence of its impressive foreshortening, prioritizing the center itself of all gazes the powerful genital insinuation under the morbid draping of a shroud that additionally leaves the torso exposed to the mystic contemplation. Or sensual.

Or hurting: to the side, the praying profiles of Saint John and the Virgin peek out. The Virgin’s crying magnifies the handkerchief of folds, analogous to those of the shroud. The detail is significant: according to the popular tradition, it’s the tears not contained by that cloth the ones that transfigure with white streaks the pinkish marble under the divine bulk. The Stone of the Unction, which oldest image is precisely this painting, is perhaps the model for the slab that in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher is venerated as authentic since the 19th Century, in replacement of another one of medieval origin, lost after the Fourth Crusade (1204). The name derives from the fact that the scene described by Mantegna is the preparation of the cadaver with cloths and ointments (“so they took the body of Jesus and they wrapped it up in shrouds with spices, as was customary when burying Jews”, John 19:40) and it is thus confirmed by the marginal but definitive attribute of the jar that contains the sacred oils.

n a crucial decision, Reátegui maintains that almost imperceptible presence, even though she vanishes the very marked presences of the apostle and Mary to better exacerbate the dramatic effect of the perspective. A finally sexual effect: it is the entire Christ that thus becomes phallus, in the archaic senses of the libidinal principle, but also in the Lacanian terms of the Name-of-the-Father, significant of all significance. Even of the broadest female significance: to the virile suggestions of the stripped corncob are added the ovular forms that come off from them. Just like in the set of this work the pictorial representations of corn come off to transmutate themselves in the volumes of the amorous sculptures in Huamanga stones, that Andean alabaster characteristic of Ayacucho, the “corner of the dead” in Quechua.

The corner of the dead: the inevitable allusion here is also to the terrible violence that in the last decades ravaged that region and from there the entire country. A historical fracture, a fracture almost geological, that nevertheless exhales airs of redemption. Such as the Virgin’s tears, here upended into germinal corns. Like the erotic emotions provoked by the impressive wounds of Jesus, the insinuating cavities of his penetrated body. Its perverse-polymorph religiousness.


Its fecund being fecundated: the sacrifice becomes a gift, offering and grace at the same time. Transubstantiation and promise of a new life, even in the own materiality of the work, its factual or represented presence: the painting becomes carving, the vegetable becomes marble. And the latter raises among its fragments the golds that cover only one erect alabaster. Just like the ritual perfumes recoated the transitional body of the Son: the Christ, the Kristos, the Messiah, and the anointed, in the etymological chain that returns us to the senses buried there of the Greek and the Hebrew.

The senses exhumed from the earth itself. That bed of stony corns is also our dislocated, ambivalent geography. The homeland, the motherland, so many times broken by history and recomposed by art, by the myth, by the Holy Spirit.

There is no resurrection without Good Friday.

Gustavo Buntinx