During the third week in December, New Mexico School of the Arts (NMSA) received a visit from Trinidadian-Canadian artist Curtis Talwst Santiago. In the spirit of community and education, a small class of students from NMSA met with the artist at SITE Santa Fe to discuss his current work in the exhibition “Casa Tomada.” After meeting with the artist, the NMSA students began to sketch and design their own renditions of Santiago’s jewelry box dioramas.
In the first place, it’s a rare gift to meet with an artist directly and get to discuss their own body of work in person. Even more special is the opportunity to study under that artist and learn from his “bag of tricks.” There are some artists who treat their studio practice with secrecy, or are hesitant to reveal techniques. This is not the case with Santiago. In my opinion, having fear to reveal what you do benefits none.
Look at the case of British artist Anish Kapoor. This world renowned sculptor gained a bit of notoriety in 2016 for “winning exclusive rights to Vantablack.” For those who don’t know, Vantablack is known in the art world as the blackest black. It is a pigment non-reflective and void of color, that those who view it in person find it difficult to judge the depth of what they are looking at. Kapoor is an artist with an already successful career and quite a bit of money to be able to afford a totally synthetic pigment created by British manufacturers NanoSystem, through a complicated process of pressure and heat. His monopolization on a material, however, ostracizes all fellow artists and does nothing to perpetuate sharing or the creative spirit. It was a selfish act and has resulted in a lot of upset and outrage in the artistic community. Contrast this with Santiago’s decision to directly teach others the way he creates his works, and it’s clear which one is doing more good for the world.
Will any of the students rush out and begin making nothing but jewelry box dioramas for the rest of their life? Maybe!? Even if they did, none of them would have the history or experiences that Santiago has had as an individual and artist. Santiago’s career wouldn’t suddenly be threatened by the existence of one other person knowing how he creates what he does. This is because the subject matter would be different and create a different experience. It is the individual person that brings the flavor to the dish they create. After spending time in the classroom with him, I personally believe that Santiago would welcome inspiring a student to the point that they embark on mastering his art. What more sincere form of flattery is there than to find out that you inspired someone so much that they devoted their life to doing what you do?
Art is a form of sharing, and I believe the more the merrier. That is why NMSA’s final critique, of their works, was such a positive environment. Students had the opportunity to discuss the subject matter of each of their works. It was an incredibly honest display. Some works were about dreamscapes and memories, some were about lighthearted dreams of playing music in a restaurant space. Other works tackled serious issues; families with disease, families with trauma.
In every instance no one judged or laughed inappropriately. Students respected each other and complimented the work and vulnerability displayed in these tiny hand-held vignettes. Santiago did just the same. He encouraged students for taking risks and being open to new experiences and techniques. It was clear that value was placed on giving others the tools to empower their own voice in a rewarding or unexpected way.
Because of this openness and giving, the students at NMSA were able to create a truly awesome exhibition. Some of the works feature inventive and raw materials; local twigs and grass, the innards of an iPhone, holy dirt from a ceremony. Some works feature sound and song, some works are soft and plush, others have sharp edges and are too sharp to grasp tightly. A lot of personality shines in all these works and a lot of craftsmanship.
This collaboration was on display from December 15th through the 19th in Axle Contemporary; a mobile gallery on wheels bringing contemporary art to the New Mexico area. A big thanks to Axle Contemporary, Curtis Talwst Santiago, the students and staff of NMSA, and SITE Santa Fe for making this wonderful collaboration a reality.
Written By: Louis Abbene-Meagley, SITE Santa Fe Fall Intern