C&AL: How would you define the themes of your work and yourself as an artist?
WN: The theme of my life is as an ethnic Indian feminist living in an Afro-Caribbean island community. My duty as an artist is not to create beautiful paintings, but to comment on that life, visually, from my special point of view—a woman, of East Indian heritage, an observer of the post-colonial politics of the islands, drawing from this rich backdrop, my multicultural background.
C&AL: The moment, as a university student in the UK, when you started working with papier-mâché, and stopped doing mural painting, seems to be an important turning point in your practice. How do you see that time today?
WN: If the clothes people give you make you feel uncomfortable, you’ll always want to undress. That was a moment of finding my own identity and voice. And realizing that my Trinidadian past was filled with a deep wellspring of images and ideas that were endemic to this island nation, to this creolization of the Indian home life of pujas and carnival, and that’s why I needed to return to it. Still, people try to define your voice, “you’re not African, so you shouldn’t talk about Black issues”. Don’t try to tell me what I am, I’m what moves me to speak.
C&AL: Similarly, when you started to draw scenes from cricket matches at that time, it was also a way of inserting your Indian cultural ancestors into your work. In both cases, the choice of subject and material seems to be a very political choice, and not at all random. Has it always been this way for you?
WN: I feel like life and the decisions we make are all political, there’s no separation. You come to them through personal stories that react within an environment, fighting for their own space and earning respect and equality in that place. I tell people that I struggle with many disadvantages in my career: 1. I am a woman; 2. I am Indian; 3. I come from a middle-class background; and 4. I’m not willing to cater to cliques. In fact, there is nothing attractive about me, people often say “Wendy Nanan, she is very difficult to deal with”. Yes.