Clement Siatous: Sagren

Simon Preston Gallery , New York, United States
12 Sep 2015 - 11 Oct 2015

Clement Siatous: Sagren

Clement Siatous Untitled 2014 acrylic on canvas 27.5 x 34.5 in. / 69.85 x 87.63 cm.

Simon Preston Gallery present Sagren, a solo exhibition of paintings by Chagossian artist Clement Siatous. The exhibition opens on 12 September and will run until 11 October, 2015.

Clement Siatous was born in 1947 on the Chagos Islands, a small isolated archipelago in the middle of the Indian Ocean. He spent most of his childhood on the island of Diego Garcia until he and his family were forcibly evicted. The entire population of the islands were expelled by the British Government to make way for a US naval base in 1973.

The UK Government was responsible for creating a fiction that a permanent population never existed on the Chagos Islands. This claim was made easier to uphold due to sparse photographic documentation that until recently mainly existed in dispersed military and government archives. As with many evicted Chagossians, compelled to leave their belongings behind, Siatous had no documentation of his heritage. In direct response to the continued political denial, he began to render a counterpoint to this official record.

Working with acrylic on canvas and employing vivid color, Siatous illustrates his former everyday life in exhaustive detail, documenting the villages and homes of Chagos as well as its copra and fishing industries. The works in the exhibition form part of a comprehensive chronicle of life on the islands. As a further conceptual device, many of the paintings bear the date of a specific memory. ‘Plagede Perhos Banhos, 1954’, painted in 2012, portrays a bustling scene depicting Chagossian food and culture, traditional tools, woven baskets, hand-made fishing boats, and different stages of the copra industry. Siatous considers each painting a political act, becoming a platform on which to confront the governments that evicted them.

Siatous describes his process as ‘self imagination’, a means of claiming ownership of his own history. His work embodies the Chagossian condition of Sagren, the Creole term used to describe the profound sorrow and longing for a denied homeland. Through his own personal journey of recollection, Siatous issues a defiant rebellion.

The exhibition, curated by Paula Naughton, is part of a multi-media project called The New Atlantis that maneuvers through testimonials and archival material obtained from a variety of sources, such as retired US Navy Seabees, military museums and WikiLeaks in order to bear witness to this untold history.