The Art of Clement Siatous

Clement Siatous was born in 1947 on Perhos Banhos, Chagos Archipelago. He spent most of his childhood on Diego Garcia until deportation of the Chagos Islands began in 1968. That same year Clement traveled to Mauritius along with his mother to receive medical treatment. When they tried to return home to Diego, they were told the island was ‘sold’ and that it had been ‘closed’. Living in appalling conditions, having been placed in slums in Mauritius and the Seychelles, the uprooted community struggled to survive.

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. Since 1995, Siatous has been constructing 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.