Born in Neuilly-sur-Seine on October 29, 1930, Niki De St. Phalle was a French sculptor, painter, and filmmaker, whose fame to glory was “the Nana-Hon-En Katedral.” Inspired by her friend Clarice Rivers’ pregnancy, Niki created “Nana,” an expression of ‘everywoman.’ Through “Nana,” the artist tried representing and establishing the position of women in the society. Nana is a life size doll made of polyester and papier-mache, braced with a wire structure, signifying female exuberance, strength, confidence, and optimism.
Niki’s first “Nana” was exhibited at the Galerie Iolas, Paris, in 1965. The creation received harsh criticism from art circle. “Nana” was described as a wild dancing figure with “aggressive,” “satirical,” and “feminist” features. Determined Phalle ignored the critics and went ahead with creating another “Nana” in collaboration with artist Jean Tinguely and Per Olof Ultvedt, in 1966. The result was her most famous work, an eighty-two foot large sculpture, “Hon-En Katedral (She-A Cathedral).” The structure was installed at the Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden. The conspicuous feature of the “Hon-En Katedral – Nana” in its reclining position with thighs spread open, is its entrance through ‘her’ vagina that lets the visitors walk through. The installation acquired much attention and severe criticism. A few critics were of the opinion that “Hon-En Katedral” was the “largest whore in the world.”
During the construction of the “Hon-En Katedral,” Niki met Swiss artist Rico Weber, who became an important assistant and a collaborator for both, de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely. The three continued working as a team and went on to making many more “Nanas,” such as “Stravinsky Fountain (1982),” “La fountaine Château-Chinon,” “Queen Califia’s Magic Circle (Sculpture Garden),” and “Sun God (1983).”
Niki once said, “My first exhibition with Nanas was called Nana Power. For me, they were the symbol of a cheerful, liberated woman. Today, after nearly twenty years, I see them differently. I see them as heralds of a new matriarchal era, which I believe is the only answer.”
The “Nanas” gathered an exclusive and distinct credibility, identity, & status to Niki De St. Phalle in the ‘Contemporary Art.’ It is well- known that only a handful of artists such as Niki have the courage & the ability to continually create stunning works, despite harsh response from public. “Nanas” today do evoke inevitable appeal and captivate the attention of onlookers.
Niki passed away on May 22, 2002, at the age of 71, because of emphysema, caused due to the years of inhaling toxic polyester fumes.