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Spotlight On: Mo Santiago, Spoken Word Artist and Photographer

Updated: Jan 18, 2020

Mo Santiago wants to share stories to inspire and help other people. With her camera in hand and her words tucked close, she is doing her part to help build a world that benefits from a little tenderness. 

If I have a chance to share things I have experienced and it helps someone who listened, then it will be worth any suffering I may have endured.” 

Both her photography and her poetry offer an insight into the soft and delicate parts of herself and her subjects. 

“I feel like a lot of my photos say a lot about me and show a progression of my life and how things are going and have gone,” she says. “There are times when I take photos and realize that I can see a reflection of myself.”

Mo taught herself to use a camera when she was in her second year of college. Unable to afford classes, she instead learned by trial and error and sought advice from her photographer friends.

 Often depicting flora and people in everyday moments, she finds a way to capture the normalcy of life in a beautiful way. There’s magic in the simplicity of her photos and a rawness that feels untouched and unfiltered. 

Though she prefers to be behind the lens and out of the spotlight (being on stage terrifies her), she feels a certain responsibility to the art of storytelling through writing, teaching spoken word to middle schoolers, and performing poetry.

“I think it’s really important for people to share their stories,” she says. “We all want to be listened to. If I have a chance to share things I have experienced and it helps someone who listened, then it will be worth any suffering I may have endured.” 

It's obvious Mo is fueled by love. When asked what motivates her to create, she mentioned her mother-the strongest womxn she knows. “She deserves nothing less than to feel full and loved and important."

This kind of selflessness and need for connection and healing through the collective story is what makes Mo’s work so honest and necessary. She wears her heart on her sleeve and isn’t afraid to let you close to feel it beat. 

Follow Mo Santiago on Instagram to keep up with her recent work. Check out her personally curated Spotify playlist, and favorite things below.

Favorite part about the Chicago creative community?

The accessibility. It is such a close, tight knit community and everyone knows everyone. If you don’t, you will. It’s crazy how many people I know from different events, open mics, shows and such. I see these people everywhere and often. It makes me feel safer knowing I will most likely run into someone I know.

Favorite TV show?

Charmed, the original. The new one is bullshit and shouldn’t have been made.

Favorite cocktail/drink?

Jameson and ginger, I love craft beer and I drink wine at home because it’s cheap.

Favorite Chicago artist?

Oooooo this one is so hard, I have a few. My number one favorite would be Kenny Flowers, I highly recommend his work. I wish he would put out another album already. 

Gertrude, Poet

Ausar, Music

Chris Aldana, Poet

Rich Robbins, Music/ Poet

Favorite spot in Chicago? (can be a neighborhood, restaurant, bar, etc.)

Off Lake Shore Drive, in Lakeview there’s an art piece there called the Chevron by John Henry. Absolutely stunning piece. I’ve started a relationship, come to terms with my depression, celebrated my birthday freezing at 6am all in front of that piece of art. It’s a truly wonderful place to sit and be. Watching the sun rise the best part.

For anyone wanting to get there:

Take the Brown Line to Diversey and head West on Diversey toward the lake

Walk all the way down to Lake Shore Drive and keep walking past the boats.

Walk through the park, past the boats docked and under the bridge (under LSD)

You should see it once you come out from under the bridge.


"Spotlight On" is a bi-weekly series highlighting Chicago creatives with a twist. We share a slice of their stories and what they love, hoping to inspire and connect.

Words by Lolo Ramos

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