WENDY NANAN has given us an exhibition of drawings, but what does it mean to have an exhibition of drawings in a world where digital photography has taken over? What can a drawing do that a photograph cannot? Or is there something that both do that is valuable?
These are not the only provocations of Wendy Nanan Draws, the latest show at Medulla Gallery, Woodbrook. The bulk of the drawings can be classed as male nudes, as if the artist is reversing the bias of the art world in which the female body has long been fair game and the male body off limits. Nanan’s gaze is not necessarily erotic, though there is a kind of yearning and curiosity evident in the selection of which bodies are deemed interesting.
But the recent animus around questions of sexuality – particularly the status of members of the LGBTQ community – provides another lens through which to view these pieces. In their celebration of the diversity of the human shape, they are a reminder of the democracy of the body: everyone is different, but that is no reason to deny some the right to human dignity. The drawings ask us to bring questions about sexuality out of the shadows and confront them head-on.
There are also allusions to several of Nanan’s previous shows in the same space. A book in one drawing references Books and Stupas – an exhibition which comprised papier-mache forms that were painted, chalked and collaged. A conch in another piece references her glorious Shells, which consisted of assemblages drawn from the marine and tropical environment. This gives followers of Nanan’s work the sense of an organic whole: of chapters and themes unfolding over a lifetime. Kind of like how readers of a particular poet or novelist might notice certain motifs over decades of work.
The drawings have a raw, un-staged quality, as if drawn in great haste. They do not, however, feel like sketches. The line takes on many textures due to the use of inks, pastels, watercolors, colour pencil. Each piece is painted in colour. The arrangement of the subject matter is also counter-intuitive: they do not replicate what we’d expect in traditional portraiture, landscape or still life.
The overall effect: the drawings have, though the artists’ inner workings, become figurative. She sees bodies but draws landscapes of the mind.
A good example is ‘The Boys on the Beach 2’ where languid men lay on the sand, shells oddly positioned between them as if some kind of onanism has or is about to occur. There is no focal point, there is a liminal quality. Here is what a drawing can do that a photograph might not.
- from Newsday, March 3, 2018, p. 32