Visiting La Isabela

January 2016

Artist Oscar Santillan’s sculptures and installations speak of a space in which fact and fiction are exchangeable, unexpected events occur and the corporeal and physical merge with the temporal and psychological.

Santillan holds a Master in Fine Arts in Sculpture from Virginia Commonwealth University and is based in The Netherlands and Ecuador. He has attended residencies at the Delfina Foundation, Jan van Eyck, Fondazione Ratti, Skowhegan, and Seven Below. His works have been exhibited at Carrillo Gil Museum of Art, Nest, STUK, Fundacion ODEON, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Poli/graphic Triennial, Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, Copperfield, Marilia Razuk Gallery, and Oud-Rekem Castle, among others.

Visiting La Isabela

A few days ago, the other artists-in-residence and I had the opportunity to visit La Isabela. It was one of the first European settlements established in the Americas by Columbus. A few years after its establishment, La Isabela was abandoned in favor of a new settlement and left deserted for centuries.

At some point of the 20th century, according to some accounts, a group of archaeologists requested approval from the Dominican government in order to study the site. Dictator Rafael Trujillo, who ruled the Dominican Republic at the time, authorized their request and ordered that the deteriorated site be “cleaned up” in preparation for this visit.

Unfortunately, the word “cleaning” was misinterpreted by local administrators, who complied to Trujillo’s command by using a bulldozer to demolish the ruins, which were thrown into the ocean. History had literally been cast out to sea.
Encountering these kinds of stories is my drive as an artist; following the wake of everything that disappears around us, how the visible world becomes invisible.

Visiting La Isabela
The sea in front of the Columbus house. Photographed by the artist.
Visiting La Isabela
Front of the Columbus house. Photographed by the artist.