I didn’t set out to paint her … she wasn’t on my mind at all when I began this painting. However I had intended to connect with some ancestral wisdom regarding a story I’m writing set in my birthplace of Jamaica. After several weeks and about 8 different faces emerging one on top of the other, one evening I decided to step back and see what I had. And there she was . . emerging out of the forest with her white headdress: Queen Nanny. At least that is the connection I made with what I saw on the canvas. Nanny is a significant important Jamaican National Hero. She was leader of the Windward Maroons. She led the slaves to freedom back in the early 1700s’ long before actual emancipation took place. She is a pivotal figure in the culture and collective consciousness of Jamaicans. Why would I think I could paint Nanny? I never set out to paint her but that’s the association I made after 8 different figures emerged and rested with her. I’m an artist. Why should I not paint Nanny, is my answer. I trust my instincts in the painting process and I am always surprised. I honor Queen Nanny and revere the female leadership that made her the recognized Jamaican National Hero that she is. One of my all-time favorite poems by Jamaican Poet Laureate Lorna Goodison places her in context with the Wild Woman Archetype, something I am also very interested in:
You’d cleansed yourself with astringent blue soap lather
rinsed your skin in a baptism of pure rainwater
robed yourself in starched garments of white
turned your face upward to catch the light
and then she came in. Disheveled and weeping,
her hair tangled, her half-hemmed dress trailing.
She had mauve-stained shadows under her eyes
like the solitaire had bruised its wings there all night.
“Instead of an attic,” she says, “you have forced me to live
under the house-bottom with your discarded things.
Me, the one who stood sentinel outside your doorway
while you cultured the new voice, the new poetry.
Who was it ripped the face off the devil when
he tried to petrify you down in the stone gardens?
I am the one who masked for you for years so
they believed that you were half-witted and slow
and because of that they chat you, laughed at you
and left you alone, allowing you to decode the news
brought by the viridian-plumaged bird who flew down
at night from the Ashanti aviary in Nanny Town.”
And as she spoke you saw yourself in her, the wild woman,
your true sister. And you say, “thank you for being the mad one,
the wild heart, the crazy woman, the Accompong Nanny warrior.”
And that’s when you brought her to live inside with you forever.