Born on 4 March 1955, Joël Nankin lives and works in Guadeloupe. Painter, musician, but also political activist, he has made his life a fight for creole identity.
Passionate about percussion, he founded in 1979 the AKIYO group, a musical project and separatist movement. Later, campaigning for Guadeloupe independance, he is judged for committing attacks and threatening the French territory integrity, and is imprisoned from 1983 to 1989.
Behind bars he discovered painting and has been influenced by the Haitian pictorial universe, Kandinsky and Mark Rothko. Nankin began working with pencil and soon moved on to colour. He uses mixed media, ink, acrylic, spray.
His really efficient works are poems dedicated to people that suffer, denounce domination and injustice. Violent in the way of using colours, abrupt and scheming, it seems to be the reflection of his political commitment.
"Personal Structures" Exhibition
Palazzo Mora, Venice - May 11th to November 24th of 2019
Guadeloupean visual artist Joël Nankin was born in Marie-Galante in 1955 and literally freed himself through painting. He was introduced to art in Haiti after leaving colonial jails there and was inspired by the early art of Wifredo Lam, which permeates the history of the art of the world, from Africa to the Caribbean. After that, he went on to find out what lies at the heart of painting. A major figure in the visual arts in Guadeloupe, he paints intensely to open up the mind by practicing an aesthetic of the encounter that goes "beyond what we can see."
Since his first pieces were presented at the Indigo Festival (Festival Inter Caribéen des Arts Plastiques, Guadeloupe, 1992 to 1996), his art has stood out and gained strength. Armed with brushes and his fingers, Nankin paints in a rhythm, with outlines, streaks, erasures, overlays, and scratches that gives his work dynamism and movement. In service of memory, he combines acrylic, inks, spray paint, and various other materials on canvas. Over the course of more than thirty years of facing the canvas, Nankin has built a pictorial nomenclature that extends from an obvious figuration to a deconstruction of this same figuration. With a color palette that often returns to a base of red, blue, brown, black, and white, he never ceases to indulge, or even surrender to, his vital needs.
From the 1994 Santo Domingo Biennale to Venice in 2019, the artist has alternated between personal and collective exhibitions, shown at home in Guadeloupe or abroad in Canada, Trinidad, Rome, New York, Paris, or Martinique. His creations are almost always populated by characters or animated faces inspired by Native American, African, and Asian symbols. Nankin summons beings, spirits, and souls: "As with many of the canvases I work on, from the moment when it is inhabited by a being I have the impression that it goes beyond me, I can’t tell when I pass from a white canvas to the final result "(1).
His dives into the heart of painting display confident, hatched, nervous, blurry, or messy features, but above all they show absent or wide-eyed gazes, witnesses of a history often written by the conquerors. Nankin's pieces transcend this question of memory in our existence: "The artist can see the dispersion of shadow and light, configurations and fluidities, opacities that support and also sweep away... Each shape can become a little genesis that has occurred, that is still occuring, that we encounter and feel growing"(2); the narrative structure and plural aesthetic of Nankin’s work succeeds in summoning all of this.