An Interview with Talwst
April 22, 2015
Canadian-Trinidadian artist, Talwst, has been passionately involved in the Canadian art scene as a painter, a sculptor, a performer, an educator, a curator – he seems to be doing it all. The Toronto-based artist recently exhibited Minimized Histories: Marginalization and Unrest at the Art Gallery of Mississauga. The show consisted of miniature dioramas depicting scenes of human struggle and conflict. Talwst’s work is compelling as each mini sculpture is like a tableau, freezing shameful moments in history that, we as humans, are not proud of. The act of downsizing these sensitive issues into tiny dioramas does not downplay these topics at all – instead, it forces the viewer to physically move in closer and take a more careful look and revision at the conflicts that have shaped our lives to what it is today.
JZ: How did the name Talwst come to be?
CS (Curtis Santiago): Talwst (pronounced Tall Waist) is an old Trinidadian nickname that was given to my Grandfather and Father. At 8 years old, while exploring on my own in Trinidad, a group of old men summoned me over to where they were chilling or liming as they say in the islands. And said your father is Frank and we know you grandpa Mark. When puzzled on how they knew this they said because you're a Talwst and proceeded to point to my waistline that starts just under my armpits basically lol
JZ: You told The Toronto Star and The Guardian that the idea of using ring boxed to create miniature dioramas began 7 years ago when a street peddler handed you a ring box and asked what you can do with it. In response, you created a tiny seascape with a female emerging from the water. Have you seen this street peddler since? What would you say to him if you saw him now?
CS: I was a regular customer of his so I did see him often and showed him the works. He loved it and would always find and save boxes for me. If I saw him today I would gift him with a piece and give him a hug. He always supported me. On the days I couldn't afford to buy something. He would hand me a stack of old magazine and shoo me on my way.
JZ: In your current show, Minimized Histories: Marginalization and Unrest, at the Art Gallery of Mississauga, the miniature scenes you've created are generally about racially sensitive issues that have come to light in the recent news. Would you say your work generally depicts racial issues?
CS: I'm beginning to notice a theme in my work. In the last couple years I have been interested in unpacking the stories and experiences I have around race. And not just my own. My time with Lawrence Paul Yuxwelupton made me aware of the struggles of his people which then made me cast my gaze even further to look at other minimized voices.
JZ: Where do you find your inspiration? How do you know what you're going to do next?
CS: Really the world around me as cliché as it sounds is my constant source. As for how do I know what to do next, I just trust my intuition. I have learnt about myself to not question when my attention becomes fixated on a specific subject or idea. I dive into it and ask the questions later of why.
JZ: Your work is so detailed and intricate. Can you briefly explain your creative process?
CS: I can say it's that the making of the infinity dioramas are meditative for me. It’s a safe space for my OCD to take hold and be present. My process is to spend as much time in the studio as possible and work towards new breakthroughs and ideas.
JZ: What do you want to leave people thinking after seeing one of your exhibitions?
CS: I try not to think about what I want people to think about the work. I am an emotional artist who makes emotional objects. I want people to walk away feeling whatever it is they naturally feel. I'm not interested in forcing my ideas on anyone.
Frida's Entry into Iguala, 2015
Reclaimed 1960s ring box, model putty, plastic, sand, silk, wood, paper, acrylic paint, enamel paint, spray paing
Spoils of War, 2015
reclaimed 1990s ring box, model putty, plastic, sculpey, acrylic paint, enamel paint, gouache, spray paint, paper, cotton, grass, tree branch
The Execution of Michael Brown, 2014
Reclaimed 2000s ring box, model putty, plastic, sculpey, acrylic paint, enamel paint, gouache, spray paint, paper, cotton, grass, tree branch"