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Powerful anti-racist miniature dioramas created inside jewelry boxes
09.27.2017
09:37 am
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‘Deluge’ (2015).
 
Maybe it was the miniature world of The Sims or the illustrations in Where’s Waldo? with its crammed panoramic scenes filled with chaos and action that first suggested the possibility to Canadian artist Curtis “Talwst” Santiago of producing tiny dioramas inside jewelry boxes. Or, maybe it was the Parisian dude living in Vancouver, from whom Talwst bought old magazines and posters to make his collages, who one day tossed him an engagement ring box and said, “I want to see what you can do with this.”

It didn’t take long. Talwst’s turned the box into a diorama of a beach scene with his girlfriend coming out of the water like Botticelli’s Venus. It was the start of a process with which Talwst creates astonishing works of power and beauty.

Talwst—pronounced “Tall Waist” a reference to his Caribbean grandfather’s and his father’s nickname—was born and raised in Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada. His father emigrated from Trinidad to Fort McMurray in 1969. The experience of growing up in Canada was different to the life Talwst discovered when he moved to New York. As a Black man then living in Brooklyn, he found himself stopped and frisked by cops for no other reason than the color of his skin.

When I came to the States, there was some difference between me and the young man here that I see. But the minute I put on that big black hoodie, my black sweatpants, and I’m standing outside having a smoke outside of my studio, I’m immediately viewed as ‘nobody,’ and they know nothing about me. I realized that could happen to anyone, at any time. How many young men, that are loved by their families and are good people, were being killed? That resonated with me. It was the start of looking at Black identity in America because it’s significantly different than Canada.

The state-sanctioned racism and violence against the Black community made Talwst understand that Black lives have less value in America, and that at any moment his own “life could be taken or seen as having no value.”

Watching news reports of Black men being murdered on the streets for no reason led Talwst to produce dioramas on the shooting by police of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, and the strangulation by police of Eric Garner on Staten Island in 2014.

[W]ith Michael Brown, it’s almost like a Goya painting [The Third of May]. Where we have images of this person beforehand and then we have images of him dead.

It’s a plethora of feelings. It’s frustration, it’s feeling thankful that I’m standing in a position where I’m able to observe and look at it, and not feel lost, locked in it, trapped by it. With the Eric Garner tape, you watch the whole thing happen in front of you. Working on that piece was so sad for me. I felt so much sorrow for his family. You hear him beg for his life.

Just before Garner’s murder, Talwst had seen Goya’s Disasters of War etching Por Qué? of “this guy being choked against a tree by three soldiers.”

A few days later, it’s 4 AM in the morning and I’m watching the YouTube video [of Garner being choked by police officers], and it draws to mind the etchings. I started crying, working and crying and feeling so sad and hurt. But I learned so much from that. I learned that I had the ability to channel my emotions into the work, if it’s honest work. But I held in the back of mind, this is not a monument to death. This is the spark to thinking and looking differently for a lot of people that are going to view this and see the video. It had to be a catalyst, mainly for his family. They’ve seen the moment of his death so much, but they never saw a moment of his ascension, his soul moving. And that’s what I wanted to create.

Talwst has also produced dioramas on the plight of Syrian refugees (Deluge) and the rape of indigenous people (The Rape). He also has produced work on environmentalism, gender and identity. His dioramas have been featured in art galleries and museums across America and Canada, and in Paris, Johannesburg, South Africa, and Geneva, Switzerland. And you can see more of Curtis Talwst Santiago’s work here. Click images to see larger picture.
 
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‘Execution of Unarmed Black Men’ aka ’ Execution of Michael Brown’ (2014).
 
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‘Por qué?’ (2014).
 
More of Talwst’s astonishing dioramas, after the jump…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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09.27.2017
09:37 am
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Creepy taxidermy: Potter’s Museum of Curiosities
08.20.2011
11:53 am
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Norman Bates would be proud - the Potter’s Museum of Curiosities, in Bramber, Sussex, where stuffed animals were dressed in costumes and posed in recognizably human settings - at school, sharing a tea party, drinking in a bar. Established in Victorian England, the museum was the idea of Walter Potter, an amateur taxidermist, whose anthropomorphic dioramas were considered typical of Victorian whimsy, and proved so popular with the public during the 1800s that the platform at Bramber railway station had to be extended to accommodate the extra carriages, which brought crowds of day-trippers to see the exhibits.

Born in 1835, Potter’s first attempt at taxidermy was his pet canary. At the age of 19, inspired by a book of nursery poems, Potter created The Death and Burial of Cock Robin, a diorama consisting of 98 species of British birds, which would become the centerpiece of his museum.

The museum had over 10,000 stuffed animals and included tableaux of:

“...a rats’ den being raided by the local police rats ... [a] village school ... featuring 48 little rabbits busy writing on tiny slates, while the Kittens’ Tea Party displayed feline etiquette and a game of croquet. A guinea pigs’ cricket match was in progress, and 20 kittens attended a wedding, wearing little morning suits or brocade dresses, with a feline vicar in white surplice. The kittens even wear frilly knickers under their formal attire!”

The museum closed in the 1970s, relocated and briefly re-opened at the Jamaica Inn, Bodmin Moor, in 1984, where it attracted over 30,000 visitors a year. Then in 2003, the exhibits were put up for auction. The artist Damien Hirst offered to buy the complete collection for £1million, but auctioneers Bonhams sold each piece individually, raising only £500,000. Amongst the buyers were Pop Artist Peter Blake, photographer David Bailey, and comedian Harry Hill. At the time, Hirst wrote in the Guardian:

“Mr Potter’s Museum of Curiosities at Jamaica Inn on Bodmin Moor is a fantastic Victorian-Edwardian collection of stuffed animals and curios. There are hundreds of items, all collected or devised by the original Mr Potter, who was a self-taught taxidermist. You can see he knew very little about anatomy and musculature, because some of the taxidermy is terrible - there’s a kingfisher that looks nothing like a kingfisher. But there’s some great stuff in there, too - two-headed goats, a rhino’s head, a mummified human hand. As an ensemble, it’s just mad.

“My own favourites are these tableaux: there’s a kittens’ wedding party, with all these kittens dressed up in costumes, even wearing jewellery. The kittens don’t look much like kittens, but that’s not the point. There’s a rats’ drinking party, too - which puts a different construction on Wind in the Willows. And a group of hamsters playing cricket.

“I’ve offered £1m and to pay for the cost of the auctioneer’s catalogue – just for them to take it off the market and keep the collection intact – but apparently, the auction has to go ahead. It is a tragedy.”

Last year, a one-off exhibition was co-curated by Peter Blake, who brought Potter’s curios together at the Museum of Everything in Primrose Hill, London.

It should be noted that Potter’s museum claimed all “animals died of natural causes.”

The following film was produced by British Pathe in 1965, and describes Potter as “a genius who made fur-lined dolls into whimsical but veritable works of poetic art.” A fabulous selection of photographs from Blake’s Museum of Everything, taken by Marc Hill, can be found on the Daily Telegraph website.
 

 
With thanks to Steve Duffy
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher
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08.20.2011
11:53 am
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