West Indian Dolls, A Portrayal Of Blackness By Artist Wendy Nanan

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Medulla Arts Gallery presents the latest works by the celebrated artist.

Trinbagonian artist Wendy Nanan, best known for her works exploring post-colonial identity is currently showing her most recent work at Medulla Arts Gallery. The show titled West Indian Dolls, A Portrayal Of Blackness, examines racist stereotypes and American caricatures of black people among other themes.

In her artist statement, Nanan explains that dolls were bought in handicraft shops, made for the tourist trade, when she was travelling with her father throughout the Caribbean, from Caracas to Cuba, in the 1990’s.

“I was first intrigued by the political and social implications of how we were representing ourselves in a modern, post colonial society. Why the use of the Aunt Jemima black face and the exotic and quaint depiction of servitude to appeal to wealthy foreigners? Why the acceptance of racist stereotypes and negative imagery, sourced from American caricatures of black people – Sambo Memorabilia?”

She also collected the dolls because of their intricate handiwork and beauty. These handmade dolls, she explained appealed to her because they showed “the signatures of their creators, much like fingerprints on ancient Sumerian pottery. I imagined the women making the dolls, hoping for sales, having to pander to the ingrained racist and sexist views of the buyers. More concerned with everyday survival than perpetuating these prejudices.”

“I recently saw a Facebook post asking for a photo-op of a coconut vendor with donkey cart. We are still painting pictures of La Belle Creole, with wooden ajoupa houses in forested clearings. In my childhood, Tourist Annie walked the streets of Port of Spain, looking very out of place. How do we see and understand ourselves, descendants of the many mixtures of colonisers, slaves and immigrants? And how have we commercialised this history and imagery into clichés to make it marketable for consumption by outside worlds? Is this the masque of our blackness as island people?”

Born in Trinidad and Tobago in 1955, Wendy Nanan is the first Indo-Trinidadian, and among the first Caribbean women artists to have a long and sustained professional practice. She obtained her BFA at Wolverhampton Polytechnic, England in 1979. Her work is included in many public and private collections, including Trinidad and Tobago’s National Museum. In her practice, Nanan takes on core questions at the heart of historical and contemporary struggles about identity, culture and power in the region. She has produced work that is at once historically and geographically specific to the place she inhabits, and timeless, gently provocative and persistently infused with her feminist politics. While Nanan is deeply respected by peers and critics in the Caribbean, she remains an under-attended-to artist, in part due to her determined locally-situated practice, she has remained in Trinidad since completing art school in 1980, and is famously reclusive, her philosophy being that “it is more important to create the work than to seek an audience for it.”

Artist Bio by Dr. Andil Gosine

The Exhibition continues until: Friday 29th September, 2023


Gallery hours: Mon-Fri 10am-6pm, Sat 11am-2pm.

Address: #37 Fitt Street, Woodbrook, Port of Spain.

For more information please contact:

Telephone: +1(868)680-1041, +1(868)622 -1196

Email: medullaartgallery@gmail.com

Follow @medullaartgallery on Facebook and Instagram

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