(Trinidad and Tobago, b. 1955)
“She draws on her femininity as embodied experience, her ethnicity that has communicated her own cultural messages, her place and time of birth—Trinidad 1955—her artistic training and exposure to Trinidad and the United Kingdom, and a personalized spirituality that is assembled from multiple influences.”
— Patricia Mohammed
Wendy Nanan was born in Port of Spain to an Indian family. Though raised in a Presbyterian household, she was able to absorb Hindu culture and ritual through her extended family. Her artistic training took her to England—first to Manchester Polytechnic, then to Wolverhampton Polytechnic, where she earned her BFA in painting in 1979. Returning to Trinidad and Tobago in the 1980s, Nanan struggled to find her place as an Indian woman artist, at a time when Trinidadian women were expected to focus on motherhood rather than a professional career.
Upon completion of her BFA in painting, Nanan discovered an urge to construct with her hands and has worked in papier-mâché ever since, creating three-dimensional pieces into which she sometimes incorporates found or readymade objects. A frequent subject of her work is daily life in postcolonial Trinidad and Tobago, which—despite gaining its independence from the UK in 1962—still maintains a number of colonialist norms and traditions. Other subjects include the multicultural richness of Trinidad and Tobago, and her own femininity.
In her piece Baby Krishna, Nanan assembled three papier-mâché blue Krishnas with wings, each carrying different objects. The work deals with the cross-pollination of cultures that is a daily phenomenon on the islands. For instance, the scholar Patricia Mohammed notes that in Hinduism, blue is the color of infinity—hence its use to represent Indian deities—but also that blue is traditionally used in Trinidad to depict darker-skinned South Asian Dravidian people. The wings of Nanan’s Krishnas, meanwhile, are borrowed from the angels of Christian tradition. The first of her Krishnas holds in one hand an enameled tin cup of tea, and in the other doubles (a Trinidadian street sandwich made of flat bread and curried garbanzos). The second Krishna holds a green map of Trinidad with red marks and the sign of om, and the third carries the islands’ national bird (the scarlet ibis) on one hand and a doll in the other.
Nanan is one of the most important living women artists in Trinidad and Tobago. She has exhibited throughout the world, despite living a largely private and isolated life.