by Laura Araujo
She signs her artwork, “F. Thompson.” Friends know her simply as “Nanda.” The Brazilian native, Fernanda Thompson, now calls Tulsa home.
Long before she moved to the U.S., Nanda’s interest in art began during her formational years in Recifie, Brazil. After school was out for the afternoon, she enrolled in private art classes.
“My art teacher was very strict. He was an old man with little patience for teenagers and wouldn’t accept it if we made mistakes. He would grab me by the ponytail and rub my face on the canvas,” she recalls. “But we all loved him. It’s because of him that I know perspective and shading. I’m grateful for him.”
As a teenager, Nanda came to Inola, Oklahoma, as an exchange student. After her study abroad year was over, she returned to Brazil and began working at a language school. To help the students learn English, Nanda founded a drama club and began directing plays. The drama program quickly grew from eight students to more than 80 by the end of the year. She honed her creative skills painting scenery and writing plays.
During the summer of 1992, the language school sent her to London for a summer course in drama and language teaching. While there, she traveled around Europe and visited art landmarks like the Louvre.
While she was traveling in Germany, she ran into her host brother from Oklahoma.
“It had been six years since I had seen my host family,” Nanda says. “Instead of visiting Italy and Spain, I decided to go back to Oklahoma.”
While in Oklahoma that fall, she reconnected with a high school friend, John. This time, there was a spark. Nanda returned to Brazil and John followed a few months later. They married in Brazil in June 1993.
On August 18, 1993, Nanda arrived in the U.S. She later realized it had been ten years—to the day—since she first arrived in the United States as an exchange student. This time, she arrived “home.”
She recalls that it was a challenge being an artist in Oklahoma at that time.
“In 1993, the arts district didn’t exist in Tulsa. It was very hard to get your work to the public,” she says.
Nanda began working as a teacher at a language school. A friend asked her to paint a picture for her home. When a furniture store owner visited that friend’s house, he noticed the painting and invited Nanda to display her artwork at his store.
“It was a great compliment to see people who didn’t know me liked the art for itself,” she says.
Over the years, Nanda’s craft has evolved—reflecting the various stages in her journey. But no matter the season, she has found continuity in her artwork.
“I’ve always had this need to paint,” she says. “I paint every single day.”
In 2004, Nanda’s art began taking a different shape
“I started doing paintings with empty space in them—a missing piece,” she says.
In 2006, she began painting mothers with babies. However, the mothers’ faces were always obscured in the pieces.
Five years later, Nanda discovered a family secret—she had been adopted. As an infant, she was left in a basket at the front door of her parents’ home.
“At the time, my friend who’s a psychologist came to my house. ‘Look at your art,’ she said. ‘You’ve been painting mothers whose faces you can’t see and abstracts with empty spaces. Your art makes complete sense.’”
Nanda realized her paintings are very intuitive.
“Art is a great way to express things you don’t know about yourself. It’s a way your mind communicates to you what you’re feeling. If you pay attention to your art, you can see that,” she says
Though Nanda has tracked down distant cousins, she’s still searching for her biological family. She hopes to one day find a connection that will lead her to a sibling or close relative.
Just as her art has changed shape over the past 25 years, Nanda says she has witnessed a transformation in the Tulsa arts scene—especially with the revival of downtown
“Contemporary art is much more accepted than it was back in the 1990s,” she says. “Having an arts district shows a community is growing. Art brings joy to a community.”
Most recently, Nanda has become known for her cityscapes. Some are of places far away—like Rio de Janeiro and the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. But others depict the places closest to her heart
The 13 paintings in her Tulsa “Postcards” series draw from her two years of architectural studies; each of the paintings incorporates a unique, 3D element
“I have passion for buildings. They catch my eye, and I have to paint them,” she says.
“After I paint a building, I never see it the same way I saw it before.
Nanda’s artwork is currently on display at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center where her “Modern Musings” show runs through December 28, 2017. Postcards of 13 Tulsa-area landmarks are available for purchase.
“I think they show that I’m grounded here, I’m growing roots here,” she says of her Tulsa cityscapes. “I feel like Tulsa is my home.
Nanda Thompson sometimes includes an original poem on the back of her paintings. This poem describes the struggle she went through after discovering, in 2011, that she had been adopted.
Origins Erased by F. Thompson
I am rebuilding a past,
a past once for me assigned.
It is a remote past,
a past that now is mine.
I am gathering up names,
Collecting also people,
places and information.
My father’s and my mother’s names,
this right I was denied.
As soon as I arrived in this world,
They invented facts and lied.
but I owe it all I am today.
Untruths of a story,
hid my true path away.
Today I find myself undressed,
of a fabricated life.
I feel in my feet cuts
and pain, caused by strife.
In this draining search,
I look for no one to blame.
My only goal is to fill
the gaps that still remain