Nan Carreira is a non-binary artist based in London working with painting, drawing and participative art, with a special focus on queerness. Nan’s work can be seen as a call to imagine new worlds where traits like vulnerability and self-expression are celebrated instead of being punished and repressed. Nan takes inspiration from myths and religious symbols from their mixed cultural background reinterpreting and reclaiming them within queerness. In their work we can find repetition, layering and expressionist marking as tools to narrate their inner world and present ideas around spirituality and transformation.
Q: How did you get into painting as a medium? What sort of materials do you use?
I began drawing and painting as a teenager, it was very liberating as it was a way to escape from reality and an outlet for my imagination. This led me to study Fine Arts in Barcelona. After completing my BA I took a break from painting due to lack of space and financial constraints. During that time I focused on researching history and engaged in activism and community work, practices I initiated while I was studying in Barcelona. When I moved to London in 2018 I resumed painting, which allowed me to integrate the learnings I developed in the years before. I predominantly use oil paint and charcoal, I love the plasticity of oils and the historical significance in painting but I am always experimenting with different mediums and materials like printing, ceramics and collage.
Q: You have spoken about the importance of mythology and religious symbols in your work, could you speak a little bit more about that?
Growing up in Spain with a culturally diverse household, where my dad is Venezuelan and my mum is Spanish, both of my grandmothers were very religious. Since my parents didn’t take us to museums, the primary art references I encountered were images of virgins and saints. I was always quite fascinated by how these images (in the form of paintings, relics, postcards, etc) held so much power for my grandmothers. It was definitely my first encounter with spirituality, a theme intrinsic to my work.
Despite becoming aware of how my queerness clashed with their beliefs, I remained fascinated by the role of art in mythology, religion and spirituality. Through historical research, I realised how many religious images had pagan or indigenous origins and were appropriated by Christianity.
In my work, I reclaim these symbols, recontextualising them to evoque ideas of spirituality, transcendence and transformation.
Q: How does the relationship between mythology and a queer, non-binary, trans identity meet for you in your paintings?
To me history is not linear but rather a circular journey allowing connections between references from different eras that speak to each other. An Argentinian trans poet, Sussy Shock, profoundly influenced the way I understand history and my queerness with the poem where she says ‘I claim my right to be a monster’’.
In mythology, “monsters” are vilified, serving as adversaries for heroes. Ideas of what is good and what is beautiful have been co-opted by these narratives for centuries. I reinterpret these figures, seeing them as liberating representations of identities exiting beyond societal norms.
My paintings often feature horns, half-human/ half-animal beings, embodying these hybrid identities. By claiming these elements within queerness I aim to challenge the demonization of gender non-conforming identities. There is something quite important about the idea of transformation and change in my work that goes beyond mythology. That is why I also find inspiration in nature, plants and blossoming flowers for example.
Q: Your works seem to have a prolific energy to them, where is your chosen workplace?
I adapt to various spaces to develop work. I had a studio for a couple of years in London and I really enjoyed it but due to the cost of living I had to let it go. Since then I transformed my living room into a workspace, accommodating both small and large scale projects.
I have been selected for a Studio Residency with Working Class Creatives at Set Woolwich, so I’ll be working there from the first half of 2024 which I am very excited about. I think access to a studio space is very key for artists and sadly a very difficult thing to afford in a city like London. I believe the government should be doing more to sort out the housing crisis that is going on in this country as this goes beyond artists not being able to afford a studio, and is creating a very precarious way of living for many vulnerable people.
Q: You have spoken about your works being a space for celebration and new worlds, could you say more?
The way I grew up, showing vulnerability and self expression was completely suppressed. It was something seen as negative. I see my work as a way of challenging this, I want the figures I represent to show all the vulnerability they can to be as fragile as they are strong and powerful. I do believe the only way of getting out of this oppressive world and generational trauma will be through political action and imagination.
Capitalism is a horrendous machine that in a way disenables us to imagine other worlds, other ways of living. While art may not directly influence politics, it can inspire a feeling of connection to something bigger than us, which might help to make people feel something different, feel emotions, or even feel seen and empowered and think critically.
Q: I know that artist facilitation is a big part of your work, you have recently started working at Queer Britain which is really exciting. Do the two worlds crossover for you?
My involvement in creative facilitation and community work parallels my artistic journey. While painting can be isolating, engaging with communities and people allows for the exchange of experiences and ideas.
I also believe museums are institutions that need a radical change from its colonial past and the way they interact with the public. My facilitation work aims to challenge this relation, understanding participants and communities as knowledge producers and important elements in the museum. There is an obsession with objects and its preservation but not enough engagement with the communities these objects represent.
I have been at Queer Britain for seven months shaping the event programs and community initiatives. It is very exciting as this is a new museum, so it has a lot of opportunities to establish new ways to relate with communities and people. The fact that it is a queer museum is really interesting for me as I see queerness and museology as antagonics. If museology tries to categorise and organise, queerness is about breaking categories. So my work there is quite fun as it is about imagining a new way of making museology that centres the people and not so much the objects.
Q: And lastly is there anything you are working on or towards that you would like to share?
Stay tuned for updates on my residency with Working Class Artist and Set Woolwich, where I will be developing new work and a showcase. I’ll be delivering two queer drawing workshops at Wellcome Collection co-curated with the artist Gaby Sahhar for young people and three Community Residencies at Queer Britain. Keep an eye on my Instagram for more updates and news! ❤️
Edited by Pascale de Graaf
Published by Queerdirect 2024