Artist Wendy Nanan exhibits A Moment of Quiet
Just take a minute for yourself to breathe, relax, meditate, imagine and observe.
That is what artist Wendy Nanan is hoping her exhibition, A Moment of Quiet, will be for those who visit her work at the Medulla Art Gallery in Woodbrook.
The exhibition has 20 pieces including six large pods that were shown in New York in 2022, eight smaller pods titled Prana, The Breath which were shown in Washington DC in 2021, and her latest work, six “alien” heads collectively called Other Sentient Beings.
Prana, The Breath and the pods are made of different types of seashells placed in flowing patterns in and around papier-macheeforms. They all have a very strong feminine energy and resemble vulvas of different shapes and sizes.
Two of the pods are shades of pink, while the others are gold, brown, teal, and one silver and grey. While the colours are not bright or bold, they complement the sea shells imbedded in the smooth surfaces of the pods, making all the elements stand out.
Nanan described the pods as erotic, sensual, fecund, and “pulsing with a Shakti power that is at once gentle and ferocious.” She also pointed out that the texture of the shells were in contrast to the texture of surfaces on which they were placed.
“Yes it’s very vaginal. It’s about outer and inner textures of the female body. It’s about female power and where it comes from, how it’s regenerative. I want to stress that the feminine themes of my work has no political overtones. It’s just about female power.”
While the pods were of different colours, made with different shells of different patterns, the eight forms of Prana, The Breath are completely covered in only clam shells placed at slightly different raised angles. Nanan said it reminded her of the way a person’s chest would raise and falls when they breathe.
To this reporter, the pieces seemed to encourage self-acceptance, that, no matter a woman’s size, shape, or colour, they are beautiful in their own way.
A Moment of Quiet is also the first exhibition this reporter has experienced that comes with instructions.
“It’s called Prana, The Breath because you’re supposed to stand in front if it and take four deep breaths, in and out, following the shells and reading the instructions. In meditation, prana means the breath. By the time you finished the fourth breath, you’re supposed to feel a little bit more relaxed, a little bit more at ease.”
Nanan said she associates the piece with breathing because one day she was collecting shells at the beach when she saw a clam stuck in the sand that was opening and closing. She felt as if it were trying to catch its breath, hoping to get in the water and survive. It reminded her everyone had stressful moments and stressful days.
“It is dedicated to the drivers and passengers stuck in endless crawling traffic, to women juggling work and households of children, all with different agendas, to citizens dealing with any government transaction, to shoppers managing stationary budgets with rising prices. Life in Trinidad is stressful. We all need to take four deep breaths.”
The idea for Other Sentient Beings came when she bought and cooked some mussels. She found the shells looked like alien eyes and kept them.
The papier-mache heads are slightly elongated and misshapened, and shells are used for mouths and other features. She said the imagery echoes the masks of Alaskan Native American and Japanese Tengu magic rituals used to drive off evil spirits.
The heads are arranged in a circle and viewers are encouraged to stand in the middle, be quiet and listen.
“When people talk about sentient beings, they think of a being who has feelings, that can think. But what if we have other sentient beings that we can’t recognise among us? These sentient beings are among us and they are communicating by some sort of telepathy.
“When you stand in the middle I hope you can tell they’re talking to each other and while they understand us, we don’t understand them. So let’s just stand in the middle and see if we can get the vibrations or what thoughts are passing around between these sentient beings.”
She told Sunday Newsday that, other than animals, she does not believe humans are the only creatures on earth. She therefore wants to encourage people to “widen our scope into the universe,” contemplate the purpose of human beings, think bigger, and not be consumed by thoughts of themselves.
Nanan said she wanted to do A Moment of Quiet because it has been a while since she did a solo show in Trinidad and Tobago and she wanted to show “all the shells” together.
She said she does not understand her fascinations with shells but she collected so many on Manzanilla beach over the years that she had to find ways to use them. She recalled that she used to convince her family members to go with her to collect shells and they would make it an outing, so the shells hold a lot of memories for her.
“I can’t resist how beautiful they are, how they feel when you hold them in your hands, the ideas you get when you look at the different ways that they form – the curves and horns. Your minds starts thinking about what else they could be and how else you could use them.”
She added that, everyone needs a moment of quiet in their lives to think and reflect, so the exhibition will have no formal opening. She just wants people to visit Medulla Art Gallery, Fitt Street, Woodbrook, from March 8 to April 8, to see the show and enjoy the pieces in a quiet space.
"Artist Wendy Nanan exhibits A Moment of Quiet"