Gallery Momo presents Exceeding Return, which is currently ongoing till May 27 by multifaceted Canadian and Trinidadian artist Curtis Talwst Santiago.
The artist’s practice explores issues of transculturalism, memory and ancestry in the contemporary diaspora experience. Santiago’s infinity series of miniature dioramas in reclaimed ring boxes consider the absence of certain narratives in dominant culture and draw on the tradition of storytelling to question the production of historical understanding. The ring boxes are unusually mobile artworks; between exhibitions they close and travel with the artist. Encased in structures that protect and transport precious objects through generations, the ring boxes become symbolic of oral historical practices. The lack of an immersive experience in viewing these works and their overt object-hood suggest the distance between dominant culture and the stories they hold.
In Exceeding Return, Santiago sets to explore his personal genealogy and ancestry. Exhibiting new works created in Johannesburg, he upholds as much as he dismantles known methods of archiving and reliving history. As an artist in Africa, his visual language expresses a distant yet urgent transcultural connection with his unknown ancestors, taking the form of erased historical figures resurrected in our present moment. He asks how one may pay homage to, or call upon ancestors and relics of the past, when the violence of colonial capitalism continues to denigrate and diminish their importance.
Through this body of work, Santiago imagines ulterior visual and spiritual spaces which demand a remapping of representation, while summoning forgotten modes of storytelling, history making and the traditions from which they emerge. Through a series of ancestor drawings and miniature ring box dioramas, the artist creates objects with a ceremonial call to action that looks to the past and present. In his close consideration of Stuart Hall’s words, “there can … be no simple return or recovery of the ancestral past which is not re-experienced through the categories of the present,” Santiago attempts to locate his personal ancestral past within his present artistic practice.
The artist expands on this with his Nubian series of monochromatic black ring box dioramas; sculptures which contemplate alternative spiritual and visual spaces that complicate cultural ideas of blackness as an identity category. Since relocating to South Africa, Santiago has been investigating spaces of leisure and their accessibility. In these miniatures, black men and women are seen participating in collective rest and holiday activities most often associated with South Africa’s white population; a comment on how leisure still relies on continued racism and poverty globally.
Curtis Talwst Santiago is a Canadian and Trinidadian artist currently working in Brooklyn. He is a former apprentice of Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, and has exhibited internationally including the Studio Museum in Harlem, Hunter College, Savannah College of Art and Design, Rachel Uffner Gallery and the Art Gallery of Mississauga. Santiago is currently an artist-in-residence at Pioneer Works, Brooklyn, and will participate in a residency with Gallery Momo in 2017. He will also be included in an upcoming show at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. His work is included in the permanent collection of the Studio Museum in Harlem.
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