Exceeding Return I Curtis 'Talwst' Santiago: Johannesburg

20 April - 10 June 2017

Gallery MOMO is proud to present Exceeding Return, the first solo exhibition in South Africa by multifaceted artist Curtis Talwst Santiago.


Curtis Talwst Santiago’s practice explores issues of transculturalism, memory and ancestry in the contemporary Diasporic 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 objecthood 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, Santiago upholds as much as he dismantles known methods of archiving and reliving history. As a Trinidadian-Canadian 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,’ Santiago 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.*


Santiago 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-Trinidadian artist currently working in Brooklyn. He is a former apprentice of Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, and has exhibited internationally in solo and group shows including at the Studio Museum in Harlem, Hunter College, Savannah College of Art and Design, Rachel Uffner Gallery and the Art Gallery of Mississauga. A current artist-in-residence at Pioneer Works, Brooklyn, Talwst will participate in a residency with Gallery MOMO (Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa) 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.


* “There can, therefore, be no simple ‘return’ or ‘recovery’ of the ancestral past which is not re-experienced through the categories of the present: no base for creative enunciation in a simple reproduction of traditional forms which are not transformed by the technologies and the identities of the present.” Stuart Hall, “New Ethnicities” from Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies. New York: Routledge, 1996, p.448