StoriesSamantha Nieto Vargas ’18

When Pop Culture Idols and Religious Icons Collide

MFA student Samantha, recently recognized as one of Boston’s top emerging talents, fuses Catholic iconography with pop culture influences from childhood.

Mickey Mouse gloves appear clasped in prayer with rosary beads hanging in their clutches. A golden gumball machine, brimming with gumballs individually stamped “Amen,” recreates early memories of taking communion.

For MFA in Photography and Integrated Media student Samantha Nieto Vargas, these pieces are a way for the artist to reconcile her childhood beliefs with her Catholic faith, creating what she describes as a “syncretism,” or an “amalgamation of different religions, cultures, or schools of thought.”

“Growing up, I idolized everything Disney,” states Samantha. “Mickey Mouse was my god, The Sensational Six were my saints. Disney movies became my homilies and scriptures—they taught me life lessons and helped me imagine that I could be anything that I wanted to be.”

Through her artwork, which ranges all the way from lenticular photography to interactive installations, Samantha seeks new ways to examine her belief systems while also challenging her viewers to do the same. Raised in a Mexican-Catholic household, the artist uses faith as a foundation from which to explore how her values have transformed over time.

“I’m interested in the connection that one has with faith, symbols, and objects of value stemming from childhood memories and experiences testing faith,” she says. “With time, all these elements look different and change meaning as we age."

"The program has really helped me to grow and go in different paths that I didn’t think that I could take my art into.”
Samantha Nieto Vargas ’18, MFA in Photography & Integrated Media

New to the Boston-area arts scene, Samantha’s unique aesthetic and approach to art making is already earning attention and accolades. Her work has recently gained her a spot among the Boston Globe’s 2018 listing of the top emerging artistic talent, an honor reserved for a select few regional artists each year.

“It feels amazing to be recognized,” says the artist. “Being a woman and a Latina artist, I’m happy and super proud to represent communities that are not often recognized in the art world.”

In the future, the artist is looking forward to sharing what she’s gained from her MFA experience with others.

“I would like to start working with children, and help them understand the possibilities of what art can do for them.”

View Samantha’s artwork in the MFA in Photography and Integrated Media Graduate Exhibition and Taking In: 2018 Exhibition on view at the Lunder Arts Center.