Matilde dos Santos writes on CATAPULT Awardee Natusha Croes for Madinin’Art

Martinique based historian, art critic and independent curator Matilde dos Santos, who was one of the guest curators/mentors selected to conduct studio visits with 6 of the 24 CATAPULT Stay Home Artist Residency participants, has generously offered to write features on each of the artists she engaged with during the programme. The first piece focuses on the practice of Aruban artist Natusha Croes!

Read the article, originally published in French on Madinin’Art: Critiques Culturelle de Martinique (November 25, 2020), in English below!

Recognizing the impact of COVID-19 on the arts sector, the American Friends of Jamaica facilitated a $320,000 fund in collaboration with Kingston Creative and The Fresh Milk Art Platform to support artists, creatives and cultural practitioners from the Caribbean region. These funds constitute the CATAPULT programme which, through six different initiatives over five months, provides direct financial support to more than 1000 Caribbean artists working on the themes of culture, human rights, gender, LGBTQIA+ and climate justice.

One such initiative is the Stay Home Artist Residency (SHAR). There are twenty-four award winning artists, spanning thirteen distinct territories and four linguistic areas of the region (English, Spanish, French and Dutch).  I had the honour of being a visiting curator for six of the resident artists.

My first virtual visit was to artist Natusha Croes’ studio.

Born in 1991, at Oranjestad, Aruba, Natusha Croes studied fine arts as a teenager at Ateliers ’89 in Aruba. After that, she continued her studies in Audio Visual Fine Arts at the Gerrit Rietveld academy in Amsterdam and she obtained a Master of Arts degree in Performance Making at Goldsmith College of London. She participated in residences in Aruba (2015, Caribbean Linked III) and in Berlin (2017, SomoS).

Her present work is a derivative of TACTUS, a creation in which she explored the possible acoustics of playing various shapes of cactus found in certain Aruban landscapes. Tapping on the thorns produced sounds, creating rhythms to which the artist sang and played. The performance was recorded in a short video. This particular attention given to the nature of a specific landscape, where she grew up, drives her current research

Natusha Croes – TACTUS screen shot video, courtesy of the artist.

Her maternal grand parents left Madeira island for Venezuela, and then left Venezuela for Aruba.  Natusha was born in Aruba to a Dutch father. Raised by her mother and her mother’s family, in a Luso-Spanish household, she discovered the Dutch language and culture at school. After college, she leaves to study in Amsterdam; comes back, leaves again, attends some residencies; after seven years of living abroad, she returns to her homeland guided by the need to reconnect with this space.

Strangely enough, she finds a representation of cultural diversity in the landscape, itself a hybrid between land and sea, with rock formations in layers to empathise with and relate to. Through her contact with the environment, Natusha stalks the memory of rocks, shells, leaves and water; a memory buried in the earth and which goes back for millions of years

Starting from the idea of touch, already present in TACTUS, Natusha creates CARICIA, a project to caress the earth, take care of it, honour it, as she says. The word is beautiful and accurate and, in keeping with the ancestral cultures, free of any colonial framework.

The situation in Aruba before the pandemic was already precarious, hers as an artist even more so, but grants such as those provided by Foundation FARPA or UNOCA allowed her to begin her project: find a studio, a team and film material.

COVID has put this project on hold. In confinement, she could no longer maintain the film crew and it was no longer possible to drive around the island looking for remote places where the connection with the earth seemed stronger to her. Having a studio, on the other hand, allowed her to gather material and bring it back there: leaves, fungus, earth, shells, rocks, a bit of everything, as if to bring the seaside home. It is at this moment that she receives the CATAPULT grant. At her studio, Natusha begins to develop “one on one” actions that she considers more like mutually healing exchanges than performances.

Natusha Croes, CARICIA, courtesy of the artist.

The simplicity of her artistic gestures and of her artefacts recalls Lygia Clark (Belo Horizonte, 1920 – Rio de Janeiro, 1988), precisely for her excitement in telling Hélio Oiticica (Rio de Janeiro, 1937-1980) about the little stone that she found on her path one day in the very middle of Paris (Lygia Clark e Hélio Oiticica, letters 1964-1974). A little stone that, once balanced atop a bag filled with air, became the creation Pedra e ar (1966) demonstrating the relationship between weight and movement. It was the beginning of a journey that brought Lygia to art therapy. A possible path for Natusha too, who considers well-being as an integral part of her practice and performs her artistic gestures as acts of healing.

When Natusha lays leaves and rocks on the workshop floor, I think of Favor quitarse los zapatos (1970), an installation by Margarita Azurdia (Antigua,1931- Guatemala City 1988), where the public had to cross barefoot over a room full of small irregular mounds of wet sand. Just like Natusha, Margarita mingled poetry, performance and sculpture with hybrid and sometimes fictional religious myths, as in Homenage à Guatemala (1971-1974). The idea of homage resonates with the reverence Natusha gives to space.

She reclaims a “state of reverence”, which brings her closer to Ana Mendieta (La Havane, 1948- New York, 1985). Ana is, understandably, the most evident reference in Natusha’s performances, especially the series Siluetas; same need to reconnect with the earth, her homeland. The underwater video of Natusha reminds one evidently of the short Super-8mm film by Ana Mendieta, Creek filmed in 1974, but also of performances Still dance by Anna Halprin (Winnetka, 1920) surrounded by nature.

Natusha Croes, CARICIA research video, screenshot, courtesy of the artist.

The study period in Europe was experienced by the artist as a rupture. It seems to be the same story for many young people from the Caribbean. At a given moment they must leave; once over there, why return? Those who return want to give back the love they received from their birthplace, and understand the rejection while back in the place too. Natusha is surprised: “I really did want to come back, and now I have to fight to stay.”

Because she wants to be in close communion with her island, Natusha swims against the current until she’s grounded, and the gap between her and her island gently fills.

While she draws, installs, performs, dances, feels, writes a story, her manner is just the opposite of spectacular, and that’s what draws me to her work. Natusha sings in Spanish and in English, caressing the land in all her languages. And it is of love that she speaks when she tells of her return to her birth land – “I was everywhere like a fool in love.” Right now as she caresses the rocks, I imagine her touching the bottom of time with the tip of her fingers.

Ana Mendieta made love to her homeland as well. She also started from a precise point, places she thought were charged with power, to finish with the understanding that a connection to the universe is possible everywhere, because the universe is one. To speak of her work Natusha uses the expression ‘Create from a state of reverence’. Eloquent,  and to the point. Also radically decolonial.

– Matilde dos Santos – Historian, art critic and independent curator

Appreciation to the partners of the CATAPULT programme: The American Friends of Jamaica, Kingston Creative and Fresh Milk.

The SHAR participants described their experiences in blogs that you can read on the Fresh Milk platform here.

For further information:

Lygia CLARK et Helio OITICICA, organised by Luciano FIGUEIREDO, Cartas 1964-74 edited by UFRJ, Rio de Janeiro, 1996.

Cecilia Fajardo-Hill e Andrea Giunta, Mulheres radicais: arte latino-americana, 1960-1985, Pinacoteca de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo , 2018. (see Azurdia p.60)

Ana Mendieta. Le temps et l’histoire me recouvrent, catalogue of the exhibit, Jeu de Paume, Paris, 2018

Anna Halprin Still Dance (1998–2002) – Anna was photographed by Eeo Stubblefield when she performed the score of Stubblefield,  Still dance. These actions and other performances in nature were documented by Andy Abrahams Wilson in the film Returning home

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