Show of Hands not Cricket – Wendy Nanan

Walking into the CCA7 InterAmericas Space, one is first made aware of three draped lengths of saffron coloured fabric with coloured drawings attached to them. There are lengths of raw cotton on the walls, drawings of hands stopped by thin bamboo that are placed on either ends of the fabric lengths like borders. But the really interesting and unexpected work is on the floor. She has a series of oversized hands, all have something in the palm or held in the fingers. It is clear that the work is about meditation. The overall impression of the pieces for me was one of ambivalence. I acknowledged that the show was about meditation. I felt that I knew what she was suggesting in the hands. My concern was about the technical skill. I found myself wrangling with this, and that is what I believe the works legacy questions.

This is a difficult statement because Wendy Nanan to me is a prolific artist, one who has gone far from the beaten track with and for her work. To ask whether her technical skill should be in question is almost like asking if her most definitive work, her cricket series is technically proficient. But here lies the rub. The cricket work is strengthened by its abstraction. Those works are beautiful because she captures the essence of the game. Why is technical skill at issue with this body of work? Is it because it asks so much of the viewer?

Ms.Nanan’s technical proficiency is exposed by her choice of materials and the intent of the works. There are many artists, locally, regionally and internationally working in na�ve styles, finding their own symbology, so who is to say that this is not Ms.Nanan’s visual language? Barbadian artist Annalee Davis has her own quirky style of drawing that is at the base of her narrative. Trinidadian artist Suzie Dayal draws in a similar personal way. Their work goes against the expected �styles� and idea of traditional, classical art. This is neither new or unusual to see. So the question may be believability and intent. What makes work believable and intentional? Should Nanan�s work be perceived by these criteria, and is this fair?

My first awareness of Wendy Nanans� work came in the early 1980�s when the National Museum endeavored to have yearly exhibitions of artists works. I believe that this plan like many things in Trinidad existed for only a few years before quietly, unceremoniously coming to an end. Such exhibiting is something that needs to be restarted. At that first exhibition of works Ms. Nanan created standing scultptures of flowers. I recall being delighted by their beauty, simplicity and effectiveness. It was the first glimpse of her looking inward at her place in a multi-cultural island that is Trinidad and Tobago, and so she tapped into her Indian heritage. I related to Wendy Nanan�s work right away. I wanted to see more of it after that first exposure. I was not disappointed. She started a series of black and white prints on cricket. But she also explored using plastic crocus bags as sculpture at the Trinidad Art Society and a series at Horizon�s Gallery on Jhanti�s, using the Trinidad map to question Indian experiences and place within society. These works were daring and refreshing in a sea of landscape and floral paintings that is the norm in Trinidad and Tobago. Her technique was not in question there. What she was exploring was more the message.

Two years ago CCA7 presented a series of work on yoga by Suzie Dayal, Johnny Stollmeyer and other artists. To say that many artists are focusing on similar themes cannot be ignored. Trinidad and Tobago has lost its innocence and for many of us the grind of daily life demands some slowing down in our private life, if only for a moment. That show also exposed questionable technical skill, over theme. One of the most difficult things artists have in Trinidad is choosing what to put into a show and what the intention of these works will be. It is difficult to know what sort of impression certain works leave on the viewer, this is never known until the work is in the space. It also does not help that there is little to no art writing to support or question the artists� intent.

There are a few Indian artists exploring their heritage in their art. The late James Isaaih Boodhoo, Shastri Maraj, The Singh Brothers, Suzie Dayal and Shalini Seereeram. For many the focus is not necessarily traditional drawing skills. Dr.Boodhoo�s focus was colour, Mr.Maraj�s latest body of work is primitive with stick figure imagery, and Ms.Seereeram�s drawings are ripe with decoration and art nouveau, art deco taste. The desire to create work clearly greater than the need to fit into some technically proficient sensibility. The question of intent is the subjective one, however it is a large part of what makes work, work. It is argued by many today that art has become too gimmicky. Artists have to find a hook very much as musicians do. That may be the case. But I would like to take this suggestion further. As we all know art has to compete with all media, and so it owes itself stability. Whether that means that technical skills have to be challenges, or themes, or intent, then so be it. Art has value in society and like everything else, it has to be held to what it claims and sets out to be about. Adele

%d bloggers like this: