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Art in and After Crisis

Art in and After Crisis

WENDY NANAN was due to open at the Art Museum of the Americas (AMA) in Washington DC on March 19, 2020. It remains half-installed, awaiting the resumption of regular activity in one of the worst hit cities in North America. Professor Andil Gosine is curator of the exhibition, a groundbreaking project that represents the largest solo exhibition of Nanan’s four-plus decades of work, but also possibly the largest show for an Indo-Caribbean artist. (Included is Gosine’s 24-minute documentary on the artist and her process). The project also draws on and innovates Professor Gosine’s longstanding research on the interstices of environmental justice, migration and sexuality.

While the museum waits to reopen its doors to visitors, several aspects of the exhibition were brought online through the museum’s social platforms on instagram, twitter, youtube and facebook, including new texts written by Professor Gosine to accompany the unveiling of Nanan’s newest “Baby Krishna,” from her iconic series of papier-mâché sculptures, and the premiere of the 22-minute video documentary made by him that documents the creation of her powerful “Breath” installation, a piece that takes on new meaning in the context of coronavirus and which will be presented later in the year.

In “The Bounce,”from Wendy Nanan’s oversized book series, lyrics from the epic Billie Holiday song “Strange Fruit” are the background text to the bounce between the Hindu god Ganesh and The Lion of The Twelve Tribes. Art references the “bounce” shared between Barack and Michelle Obama on election night, “a time,” Nanan says, “when universal forces colluded to say we can overcome.”

WENDY NANAN is one of several outcomes of Professor Gosine’s “Visual Arts After Indenture” project which began in 2014. His project was to identify and make sense of the visual art produced by descendants of indentured workers who were brought from India and elsewhere to the Caribbean, Fiji and Mauritius as replacement plantation labour following the abolition of slavery. This system of indentureship ended in 1917, and Professor Gosine has used the centenary anniversary celebration to organize and contribute to various research projects, including international workshops, special issues of journals including Small Axe and Asian Diaspora Visual Arts of the Americas, and creation of a digital archive of artists’ images.

Besides drawing attention to the work of artists like Nanan (and others like Guadeloupe Kelly Sinnapah Mary), this study of the visual arts of and after indentureship broadly engages and pursues questions about the production, purpose and impact of art in and after times of crisis. In his graduate and undergraduate classes, Professor Gosine has drawn on this material to help students understand and produce creative visual art in response to HIV/AIDS, climate change and animal abuse, among other environmental crises. Every year since he has joined the Faculty, Professor Gosine has organized an annual exhibition of his students’ works around one of these themes.

Professor Gosine’s research practice includes artistic production, as he explains in Visual Art after Indenture: Authoethnographic Reflections, revealing the intersection of the personal (autho-) and the communal (ethnographic) as foundational to his approach. His previous exhibitions Deities, Parts I & II presented photographs from environmental activities by organizations in the New York City community, while Coolie Coolie Viens and All the Flowers, both presented in Canada in 2018, interrogated the legacies of indentureship and adolescent migration, respectively. His 2020 exhibition rêvenir returned Professor Gosine to Trinidad and Tobago, and featured video, photography and installation work. His performances have included the ongoing series Cane Portraiture (presented at the Art Gallery of Ontario) and Our Holy Waters, And Mine at the Queens Museum in New York in 2014 and at the Museum of Latin American Art in California in 2018 — all of which draw upon and complicate the aesthetics of indenture.

Professor Gosine’s forthcoming book Nature’s Wild: Love, Sex and Law in  the  Caribbean  (Duke) draws on his expertise in the areas of sexuality, environment and visual art. For more info, visit: www.andilgosine.com