Arts / Culture

In conversation with Marikit Santiago – the 2024 La Prairie Art Award winner

marikit santiago standing in front of her artwork at the art gallery of new south wales

While most artists would keep their young children’s fingers as far away from their studios as possible, for Western Sydney-based Filipina-Australian artist Marikit Santiago, those fingers are integral to almost every piece of work she creates. In most of her artworks, her three young children are credited as artistic collaborators.

Santiago has been named the recipient of the 2024 La Prairie Art Award for her diptych, A Seat at the Table (Magulang) and A Seat at the Table (Kapatid). These portraits honour two generations of Santiago’s family through their depiction of her parents, her sister, and herself. Both paintings are set at the Santiago family dining table, which is embellished with elements of family life and cultural significance.


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Now in its third year, the La Prairie Art Award is bestowed by the Swiss luxury skincare house La Prairie, alongside the Art Gallery of New South Wales, to celebrate the work of female-identifying artists. The $80,000 award consists of the acquisition of the work for the gallery’s collection, and a residency for the artist in Europe, including attendance at Basel Art Fair in June in Switzerland, as guest of La Prairie.

“For someone like me to be awarded something like this is immensely significant for all the people like me,” Santiago said upon accepting the award. “I share this award with the Filipino community, migrant and Western Sydney communities. It is a privilege to contribute to our culture.”

Santiago has been an Archibald finalist three times, and won the 2020 Sulman prize for a painting of her three children, now aged 10, eight and five. The handiwork of her children, whom she described as her “best collaborators, most enchanting muses, and treasures of my life,” can be seen within the work — in the stars and flowers of Santiago’s mother’s traditional house dress, and in swirls and scrawls deep within the layers of oil paint.

“I had a lot of fun painting her dress,” Santiago tells RUSSH. “Even though it’s supposed to be a baggy muumuu, and never worn in public, I’ve glorified it to celebrate the role my mother has played for us.”

There is a marked contrast between the humble material Santiago uses — both paintings are on cardboard — and the rich layers of oil paint and gold leaf. Also depicted in the painting of her parents is a lechon, or a whole suckling pig, traditionally served on banana leaves at communal feasts to feed a large number of people. Narcissus flowers present in the portrait of Santiago and her sister invoke both Caravaggio’s Narcissus and the feelings that come up for the artist around her practice.

“As an artist, I feel guilty for choosing this career. For me, it's a selfish career. Pursuing it has meant that Sean, my husband, has always had to provide for us financially.”

“Winning this award, I feel relief now that I can provide financial support and also so happy for my children that we can travel to Europe and learn together… Being able to take my children to Europe, and give them this experience, makes me feel proud that I am providing for them.”

Santiago is the third artist to receive the annual award, following Sydney based artists Thea Anamara Perkins in 2023, and Melbourne-based artist Atong Atem in 2022.

A Seat at the Table (Magulang) and A Seat at the Table (Kapatid) are on display at the Art Gallery’s North Building until 28 July 2024.

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