Southern Alberta Art Gallery - Santiago Mostyn: Grass Widows

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Santiago Mostyn ‘Grass Widows’ [solo-exhibition] at Southern Alberta Art Gallery, February 29, 2020 – September 10, 2020.

Santiago Mostyn, Grass Widows 
February 29, 2020 – September 10, 2020

Straw is preceded by fresh green grass. For this reason, I will begin with grass widows. Nowadays a woman is called a grass widow whose husband had to leave home (for example, obliged to work far away from his family). Alternatively, she may be a divorced woman or a woman living apart from her husband. In all those cases she is not really a widow, but not quite a married woman either.

—Grass Widows and Straw Men, Anatoly Liberman

Santiago Mostyn weaves a narrative that echoes over generations, the restless urge to set out in search of a better life, and the reverberating consequences of these journeys. Grass Widows collects these as blades of stasis amongst disparate paths of migration, within a knotted contemporaneous context of those who fled persecution, those who left to build a new utopic community, and those who set out on paths of discovery, profit and adventure.

Mostyn’s detailed research includes archival images from the estate of school teacher Prentice G. Downes, following his inland travels in the subarctic north. Centred in the space are floating and translucent images marking the lost first generations of the Black homesteaders’ community at Amber Valley, a group of families who fled racial hostility in Oklahoma for Athabasca. The experience is resonant to Mostyn’s childhood departure from America for a liberated Grenada and Zimbabwe; a reverse-diasporic journey described by the artist’s father, Akinyele Sadiq as: “sharing in the excitement, frustrations, struggles, failures and successes of a people digging their way out of 400 years of slavery, colonialism, exploitation and degradation.”

From the perspective of what resides amongst a waiting “displacement or at least in-betweenness”, Mostyn’s recent works Altarpiece and Red Summer Edit parenthetically lie aside a Cordyline fruticosa plant, traditionally used to mark land boundaries in the island of Tobago. Situated in front of an intentionally re-opened gallery view towards the Canadian winter landscape, bathing under the dystopic encouragement of simulated sunlight, the Rayo plant is representative for the solitary view of these surrounding works, dense in their criticality of globalized and systemic colonial forces of oppression, and the ‘impossibility of return’ for those who continue to seek fertile ground.

Curated by Kristy Trinier

Santiago Mostyn (b. 1981) makes films, installations and performances that test the divide between disparate cultural spheres, employing an intuitive process to engage with a knowledge and history grounded equally in the body and the rational mind. He is based in Sweden but maintains strong ties to Zimbabwe and Trinidad & Tobago, the countries of his upbringing. Mostyn co-curated the Moderna Exhibition 2018: With the Future Behind Us, Moderna Museet’s survey of contemporary art in Sweden, and has exhibited widely at venues including the Rencontres de Bamako (2019), Gothenburg Biennial (2017), Moderna Museet (2016), Kunsthall Stavanger (2014), and Malmö Konsthall (2013). Recent exhibitions include Not a Single Story II at Wanås Konst, Survival Kit 10.1 at LCCA Riga, and The Measure of All Things: On the (In)Human at Lunds Konsthall.

Everyone and everything is so far away. […] I am ‘camped’ under an old canoe in the bushes. I have thought -not much- of the past year. To crucify oneself a little on the long portages, to be in the bush, is a salutary thing. I must change next year and tie to something. Just drifting. Maybe E.G. will be the answer. I am tremendously fond of her. If they would only really give me something back …which I had to reach to. Well, I go north somehow soon. I am coming back – and if fate somehow breaks the other way, maybe nitchimos E.G. may somehow know how much her letter meant to me.

—To Great Slave and Great Bear: P.G. Downes’ Journal of Travels North from Île-à-la-Crosse in 1938 [Part II]. R.H. Cockburn, Arctic, Artic Institute of North America, Vol. 38, No. 3 (Sept.,1985) p. 233.

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