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Curtis Santiago, searching for oneself @ art on paper

mars 10, 2018

Grown up in the music and scents of Trinidad, the young Curtis Santiago was dancing his life. Canada then put him on stage, as he was only 14 years old. Long legs, fine waist, deep voice, Santiago soon became TALWST, and what they call success, he got it all with his music. But ten years later he quit. TALWST loves to sing and loves the people; Santiago loves authenticity and working alone. In that balance, the taste for solitude and inwardness took over: Santiago left the stage for a while to create new worlds. Worlds in tiny boxes (they call them Dioramas even when the boxes are from Gucci), boxes reminiscent of the shoe boxes he worked in at primary school, but much smaller than shoeboxes… Santiago’s new worlds represent the old ones with irony sometimes despair, always beauty. Santiago’s interest in storytelling, in particular narratives from African and Caribbean culture, comes alive in his practice, which aims to animate and reinsert these silenced histories into contemporary art.

In his last exhibition in Geneva though, entitled HISTORY BOX OFFICE, TALWST and Santiago got somehow re-united

Santiago has now also introduced drawing into his practice, and his drawings were first shown by Rachel Uffner in 2016-2017

Curtis Santiago. Sour tasting of the imminent History

Curtis Santiago is, what we can formally say, a « mixed media » artist. Painting, performance, music, sculpture- this Canadian native of Trinidad has many strings to his bow. Favouring a popular art approach, broken with the willingly direct expression of autodidacts, street art and Soul musicians (he was, in the 1990s, a member of the Canadian group of Edmonton The Hi-Phoniqs), he considers art, above all, as a form of writing the contemporary world: the continuation of life lived trough other means, its recording, its aesthetic quote.

Marked by recent history, filigree permeated by the transcultural spirit of Post Colonial Studies, the work of Curtis Santiago is neither unionist nor soothing. How having the illusions, as a member of the African-American community, if the daily life is to endure racism, police violence, humiliation, and an economic status that is frequently under-privileged? The artist includes a lot of symbolic and social wounds in his plastic and musical creations.

« Through my artistic work, I explore the narration of the art history by incorporating elements of different cultures in order to gain the attention of an enlarged audience, and to expand the rules. » says Curtis Santiago. The plasticity artist’s intention, always comprehensible, never elliptical, conforms to this purpose. His paintings evoke, in an elementary and realistic style sometimes with family or friendly figures, transformed into icons, those here, of a necessary solidarity, or even some, brutal rather than pacify, scenes of American life.

Better known than his paintings, his sculpture series Infinity, takes the form of a singular inventory. In small-recovered jewelry boxes, the artist realizes in miniature skits of the public or private life. The themes are varied: the police hitting a black man on the ground (Por Que, 2014), a demonstration of Chicanos (Frida Enters Iguala, 2015), the dramas linked to migrations of misery (Deluge series, 2015-2016) … About his dioramas, the artist says: « The work’s small scale allows me the opportunity for a very particular kind of meditation. The overarching theme to my sense of the vastness and the fragility of the world which I inhabit; and my fleeting memories of this world. Both are modeled after personal experiences. » His goal is to capture present moments that the passage of time would make disappear, in a memory perspective but also in a didactic way of giving to think. The Infinity boxes exceed the status of precious artifacts breaking with the real or fragile models dedicated to the only decorative exhibition. They contain History, not in a synthetic way but in a man perspective. The universal, sometimes, is in the details, more than in a global vision.

The dioramas presented in Geneva this winter continue to feed the fetish representations of Curtis Santiago. Far from the world, time is passing, it pacifies itself, it remains prodigal of tension situations and harmony ruptures. Sheltered from such a box, a man masturbates watching a woman dancing lasciviously in front of him, in a closed room; there, mounted on holds, immobilized without its wheels in a luxuriant landscape, an abandoned car is invaded by the wild vegetation; on the other hand, a cow-headed man is bending over a parked Porsche Boxter Convertible, driven by a horse; again: a visibly intrigued policeman is opening the trunk of an Audi break, a trunk in which he could make an unexpected discovery, macabre who knows? ; a Ferrari caught in the mud, muzzle planted in the ground, seems to have been the victim of a past flood, that one of New Orleans perhaps, or having accompanied the passage of the Katrina hurricane… Small moments of history, ephemeral black or gray reveries; all of them write a mythology of disjunction, of disorder that insinuate in things – the irreparable loss of Paradise.

Sometimes, it seems that the sweetness comes back, as in this box crossed by a river, in line with a quiet landscape. Is the artist, as we most of the time, lacking Eden? Does art save us from disaster? Can the world, according to Curtis Santiago, be anything else than sour? Let’s look, let’s think.

Paul Ardenne

Curtis Santiago, San Papier II (Deluge VII)


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