Feature

Drawing cricket

Trinidadian artist Wendy Nanan and four decades of sketching the game

© Wendy Nanan

Wendy Nanan began drawing cricketers as an act of defiance. In 1979, Nanan, a Trinidadian, was an art student in Wolverhampton, England. "During that time, people would often shout at me in the street, 'Paki! Paki, go back home!'" she recalls. "Drawing cricket was a way of answering back." Because the West Indies team was the best in the world at that point, drawing images of the squad led by captain Clive Lloyd and vice-captain Deryck Murray was a way of not only correcting the hecklers about her ethnicity, it was also a way of claiming her value; to the denigrating taunt she replied: "I'm West Indian, we are the very best."

Once Nanan returned to Trinidad after her studies, she started to accompany her parents to matches, and began to do live drawings at local and international games. That exercise evolved into a critically praised practice now four decades long. The largest showing of this work will be presented when the Art Museum of the Americas (AMA) reopens in Washington DC. The exhibition includes two galleries of Nanan's sculptural works, but the third and largest of the galleries will feature her untitled cricket drawings.

Approaching her 65th birthday, Nanan remains a huge cricket fan. The exhibition curator, Andil Gosine, chose images of seven works for this photo feature, most of them part of the show. They are accompanied by Nanan's reflections on her art.

© Wendy Nanan

"The night before I knew I was going to head out to the Queen's Park Oval to draw, I would gather my materials: paper, ink, water, brushes, clips and a board. I would wake up early the next morning to prepare coffee and sandwiches. The Oval is a 30-minute walk from home, but with my bags heavy on my shoulders, it felt longer. I would set myself up and start by doing some scenic drawings as a test run of my arrangements until the entry of the umpires. Then I just let the images come to me, without overthinking it or getting too involved in the game. I allowed my hand to take over, to transcribe what I was seeing. I resisted making judgements and corrections. At the end of the day, I would pack it all up and trudge back home, usually exhausted. The next day I would unpack and look at what I had done and decide what was worth keeping. Sometimes I would just keep one or two and toss the rest."

© Wendy Nanan

"Watching Trinidad's spin bowlers over the years, most of them Indians from rural Preysal, I have wondered what it is in that environment and genetic make-up that makes them masters of spin. These are not the threatening, thundering giants of West Indian fast bowling, not the ones whose pace attacks. These are magicians manipulating the fingers and wrist to beguile and outwit the best of batsmen. They make the flight of the ball on its way to the bails unreadable. The language of that path is itself fanciful: googly, doosra, legbreak, offbreak. I have been mesmerised by Rangy Nanan (no relation), Inshan Ali, Ganesh Mahibir, Rajindra Dhanraj, Sunil Narine, Dave Mohammed and Dinanath Ramnarine, among others. They were all underdogs, and I loved watching them."

© Wendy Nanan

"My mother would get angry when there was a lot of housework and cooking to be done and I was about to run off to spend the whole day at the Oval. 'Where are you going?' she'd shout. 'Don't you know I need some help?' 'I have to go to the Oval to draw,' I'd answer. She fussed, but I did leave the house, her calling out, 'What time are you coming home?' as I closed the door behind me. But she was such a keen cricket enthusiast, I don't think she really minded at all. Once, she, Dad and I and a group of work buddies went to the Oval. Sunil Gavaskar was batting and he hit a hundred, and my mom ran out onto the field towards him, right past security, to congratulate him! The next day the incident was in the papers, and my mom was so proud. I didn't know she could run like that!"

© Wendy Nanan

"Brian Lara was a schoolboy who came to the crease to bat and stay there as long as possible. He outlasted all his (unequal) partners. He would cry when he was given out but always hid his tears when he walked off the field. One could only imagine the sacrifices made to foster that natural talent and that thirst for playing. Watching Lara, I could feel the grief he felt that his father was not there to see those dreams come to fruition. Every child wants to reward their parents for their time, belief and love, to make them proud, and Lara wasn't able to show his father that he made the West Indies team. All Lara ever wanted to do was to go out there and bat for as long as he could."

© Wendy Nanan

"Going to the Oval to watch international games with my dad and his friends, one treat to look forward to was the snacks on sale, and the sellers. Our preferred choice was Mr Brown's pies. Fried round puffs of dough around questionable fillings, and best of all his stuffed crab backs. They would come in little styrofoam containers, with a white plastic fork sticking out. My dad's friends would indulge me by buying me more than one, a gesture my father would try to refuse on my behalf because they were expensive. I remember salivating when you heard that call echoing across the stands: 'Brown's pies!'"

© Wendy Nanan

"Local league games at the Oval were poorly attended. You'd get mostly the retired stalwarts and family members of the players. Sometimes things were so quiet, I had a whole empty stand to myself to spread out and work. The downside of that was that sometimes there would be a man who could not bear to see a woman by herself and would just come over to chat me up. But over time, people knew that I was coming there to draw. The cricketers too. They knew that there was this lady in the stands, and they would be teasing me; some would make the funniest fake poses, to entice me to draw them."

While the AMA awaits its reopening, it has made Gosine's documentary about Nanan available to the public; a poetry chapbook in response to her drawings will be released on September 1. For more information email Gosine

 

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