Shells and shores: Wendy Nanan and Andre bagoo

“I was about seven years old when I first started to go to Manzanilla regularly. My parents would take time off in August to take us to a beach house. Then when I started to make the “shell” sculptures, my mother would come with me to collect shells.” 

So begins the video “Wendy Nanan,” which follows the artist through her creation of, and accompanies, her newest sculptural installation Breath from her current solo exhibition at the Art Museum of the Americas (AMA):

With COVID 19 forcing the temporary closure of the museum, curator Andil Gosine called upon three poets to virtually open Nanan’s exhibtion–the  first and largest for a Caribbean woman at the AMA–on June 11, 2020. Among them was Andre Bagoo, whose engagement with the artist includes a suite of poems that invoke and weigh the site of Nanan’s shell-collecting, along Trinidad’s vulnerable Atlantic coast. 

MANZANILLA

For those of us who live at the shoreline
– Audre Lorde, ‘A Litany for Survival’





mother
we have 
come back
to be 
inside you

mother
come back
we have
to be 
inside you

mother
to be
we have 
come back
inside you

mother
inside you
come back
we have 
to be

SHELLS*

Here, it reminds me somehow of you.
Mervyn Taylor, ‘The White Shell’

 A palm open to nothing.
Harriet Brown, ‘Shell’

I

I found it in the wash, the brown
shell I picked up from the beach
that last day, the little tornado
torn open,            smooth, muscular,
alien among my cottons and whites.
We did not say goodbye. But this relic,
once tossed by rough waves, once
the home of something, houses us.
I wish I had kept more, made
a chorus safe inside my folds,
multitudinous

II.

every palm tree has scars

rings on its trunk mark the years

like the lines inside a shell

hard sheaths protect the leaves

though one day each crown must die

for the tree to give life again

III.

Mother, in your hands
are the days, gallery rooms
in which you hand the ocean,
or the shock of the blueness of a uniform
on the first day of school when you leave me
standing at the door to the classroom
and say I am coming back, it will be okay,
or that day on the bay when the
waves made sand into quicksand
and as I sank I felt I could disappear
into the life that was still to come

IV.

together at last
our dreaming eyelids shut
our bodies clammed in fibrous vessels
messages                                 thoughts
hopes               fears                memories
each whorl a masterpiece, studding
the white walls of our thoughts
Where are we now?

*Shells was first published in Pitch Lake.

Anchor image credit: “Wendy’s Peera on Manzanilla Beach,” Andil Gosine (2019)

Andre Bagoo is the author of four poetry collections, and he was recently selected for the Ernest Hemingway Foundation’s 2020 prize anthology. Bagoo’s essay collection on art and literature, The Undiscovered Country, is forthcoming from Peepal Tree Press. His newest ekphrastic poem in response to Nanan’s Baby Krishna, “Because the sky is lighter than paper, a manifesto of feathers,” will be published on July 1 as a limited edition chapbook. “Wendy Nanan”‘s extended run at the AMA will continue until the end of 2020.

Andil Gosine is Professor of Environmental Art & Justice at York University, Toronto. Dr. Gosine’s scholarship and artistic practice examine imbrications of ecology, desire and migration, and include numerous publications and multimedia projects. Exhibitions of his work Deities, Parts I & II showed in New York in 2019, and Coolie Coolie Viens and All the Flowers in Canada in 2018. Dr. Gosine is currently completing revisions on his forthcoming monograph, Nature’s Wild: Love, Sex and Law in the Caribbean (Duke). He is also working on a book project about Wendy Nanan.

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