From a young age, Wendy Nanan, 67, realized she would need to find space to tell her own story, and her choices as an artist have always reflected this search. Born in Port of Spain (Trinidad and Tobago) to a family of Indian origin, she grew up surrounded by multicultural Caribbean influences, in a context in which the inclusion of women in artistic or intellectual activities was rare. In the 1970s, she moved to England—first to Manchester, then Wolverhampton, where she graduated with a BFA in painting in 1979. There she realized that it wouldn’t be easy to find a place where she could actually produce what she wanted to produce, a far cry from the expectations of the art world of what a Caribbean immigrant artist should have been making at the time.
C& Latin America: I’d like to start by asking you about something you’ve mentioned in previous interviews, when you describe your childhood, saying that you are the one who always “makes things” in your family. It’s a beautiful definition that approximates the way you see your practice, paying more attention to the creation of a work than to finding an audience for it. What is it like to contend with artistic production in this way, especially within the contemporary art system, when so many other things overlap the act of creating itself?
Wendy Nanan: Today, at the age of 67, I’ve discovered that I’ve gone back to the beginning, to making objects and drawing, simply for the pleasure of doing so, without considerations for my career or seeking a place in the world of contemporary art, whether international or local. It’s always been hard for me to achieve success because it involves a lot of fake smiles to fit in and make connections, often having to give up your inner self, which I’m not willing to do. The other day someone offered me a job on a film, saying it would make me more well-known, as if I needed to cling to fame and lose my focus, molding myself to something at the whim of the moment. If I haven’t been able to just do my job at this point, I might as well forget about fitting into the bigger picture and just please myself. Trying to create, with what time I still have, something from the ideas that have haunted me for a lifetime, waiting to be made.