Talwst: Histories in Miniature

Curtis “TALWST” Santiago is a Canadian-Trinidadian artist working in mixed media and performance practices. He is currently engaged in his ongoing and prolific infinity series of miniature dioramas in reclaimed ring boxes. An exploration across cultures and time periods, through these works Talwst aims to draw attention to absent or misinterpreted narratives, suggest the non-linear complexities of history, and explore relationships between cultures. He has produced a number of sub series in this format that focus on themes, such as inserting marginalized narratives into art history and drawing parallels between disparate cultural histories.

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These works draw parallels between narratives of global marginalization, violence and unrest across time and combine them with references to the contemporary digital age in a manner that mediates on the atemporal human condition. Talwst began this series with his work The Execution of Mike Brown (image above) in which he appropriated the composition for Edouard Manet’s The Execution of Maximilian, scaling it down, putting it in a box, and relocating it in the United States where we see a portrait of a black man being shot by multiple police officers. Talwst quickly continued with this series creating a number of strong works including The Rape, Tell them to Stop! Tell them to Stop!, and Por Que? which is currently on view at the Studio Museum in Harlem.

These works challenge our visual culture by cutting and mixing moments in history, global cultures, and the digital word. They both propose alternative narratives and question our assumptions. The inclusion of references to digital culture, our obsession with social media and photography weaves in another narrative commenting on our current, filtered, view of the world.

The small scale of Talwst’s works involve an unusual physical engagement in both creating and viewing the work. The dioramas are made in reclaimed ring boxes: cases that hold, protect, and transport precious objects, which are passed down through generations. These are unusually mobile artworks; between exhibitions they close and travel with the artist. The artist’s interest in storytelling, in particular narratives from African and Caribbean culture, informs the tension
between the powerful content and miniature scale, which acts as a reflection of minimized and marginalized histories’ challenge in integrating into predominant, western history. The lack of an immersive experience in viewing these works, as
well as their overt objecthood, suggests the distance between dominant culture and the stories they hold.

A former apprentice of Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, Talwst’s work has been exhibited in Canada including recent exhibitions at The Art Gallery of Mississauga, convenience gallery, Angell Gallery, and internationally at Fuse Gallery, Studio Museum Harlem, New York and Galerie White Projects, Paris.

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