Independent... But Stamped!
Pat Ganase reviews Wendy Nanan's exhibition at Medulla Art Gallery. The installations "Independence" may be viewed up to September 18, 2012
50 years after being jettisoned like so much baggage, fragments of empire bob around the world. Branded with emblems of colonisation and imperialist rule, we are slowly allowing inherent character to emerge and re-modelling identity from within. But there's nothing pedantic about Wendy Nanan's compelling illumination of the legacies of independent nations in the modern world.
Rather they draw you in with whimsy and colour, carnivalesque headpieces and the fact that the artist's entire palette is postage stamps! They make you want to stay in the gallery and study each piece, to look under the surface which is after all papier-mâché, acrylic and collage of the most ordinary elements of currency.
We can choose to meditate upon the bigger ideas of nationhood; to consider the effects of the unifying stamp of the imperial ruler; but you must marvel at the portraits themselves. They seem to have been modelled from life. In this one, you might see Wendy herself. Over there, that must surely be Pat Bishop, albeit a younger Pat. There's the begum that is India-Pakistan, and the distinctive native American Indian high flat features, broad cheekbones; the discreet European under a big hat. But as surely as the cultures have adopted the rules and language of the Queen, it is Africa whose influence is incipient and emerging.
The Queens — Nanan's collection of eleven busts — depict British legacy in the Caribbean, in Native (North) America, South America, India and Pakistan, and Africa. However, the solitary male subject, dreadlocked bowler-hatted, is the punchline. The Empire strikes back, as he is called.
Three other installations complete the Wendy Nanan Independence exhibition at Medulla Art Gallery.
In Trinidad Morphs, the our familiar island transforms itself into a banana (republic).
Nanan's meditation on Enlightenment echoes others like singer Joni Mitchell — "we are stardust; we are golden" — or Tagore — "The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures." Nanan writes, "Our bodies, our atoms are made of the same dust as the planets and the stars ... Our time here on Earth like a flash that morphs from one physical form to another, the dust of the universe."
In the Hindu myth, Baby Krishna — whose name means black or blue-black, like night — suckled at the poisoned tit of the evil Putana, drawing her life away. Nanan continues to meld the diverse religious iconography of her native land and we see a winged cherubic Baby Krishna embracing like Christ the child and the scarlet ibis, and extending special protective power to the pillars of life; perhaps hoping to heal the bleeding Trinidad with the balm of enlightenment. No innocent infant, Nanan's Krishna evokes the pathos of a crucified Christ.
Nanan's special Independence gift to the nation should be seen in life and not merely read about. And I urge everyone to hurry over to Medulla at 37 Fitt Street. The exhibition closes September 18, 2012. And I also hope that some enlightened corporate entity might see it fit to acquire and display the Queens as a singular exhibit.