chris santa maria

Semper Fidelis, 2007  |  60 x 24 inches each  |  oil on canvas



In September of 2005, my younger brother, a Corporal in the United States Marine Corps, was sent to Iraq on a second tour of duty. The day he arrived in Iraq, his barber shaved my face and cut my hair in the “jarhead” style that the Marines uniformly bear. I neither shaved nor cut my hair for the duration of his tour. During his absence, I recorded my hair growth at specific intervals as I removed pieces of my brothers “dress blues” uniform. The process lasted approximately eight months and grew from my interest in his choice to serve in the Marines following the events of September 11th.

This work is an engagement with the possibility of translating that experience from the realm of the daily to that of the aesthetic. The conflict and confusion of my position over a period of time becomes a visual phenomenon - taken out of time, eight months of mulling over my own relationship with my brother, war, and to politics. My body's progress, from clean cut and uniformed to disheveled, slumped and denuded, evokes an ambiguous narrative that neither reconciles nor resolves anything.

While not conceived as a political work, and despite their apparent objectivity, these paintings are not devoid of politics. By presenting a counterculture "longhair" clad in a Marines uniform, they push at the edges of not just the acceptable, but also the possible, both giving themselves over to and denying structures of institutional discipline. The work has no direct political or social impact on culture. In that sense, I strive to both disassemble and rehabilitate those structures, while acknowledging blunt reality: the matrices of institutional power perpetuate themseleves through the bodies of young men - in military garb, in the wounds of battle, and ostensibly in corpses that go unseen.

Often expressions of masculinity become indistinguishable from militaristic hierarchy and behavior. Resisting that form of masculinity becomes a matter of self-sculpting, of a willful rejection of the uniform and buzz cut's sharp lines. The work can be viewed as a kind of conversation - a position of differing meanings and points of view in which much is either called into question or obscured. By allowing a uniform and an untended beard to continually re-contextualize and undercut each other, I construct my body as a locus for both conformity and resistance.