Anna Banana is her real name.
“I changed it legally after a divorce some years ago,” says the renown artist.
That was in the 1980s, although she has been Anna Banana since the early 1970s, and it all started in Victoria.
She grew up here, married, moved to Vancouver in 1958, went to Big Sur, CA during the height of the hippie movement, came back to Victoria for a few years then hit the road in a VW van to see what was over the horizon.
“Victoria was very staid at the time,” the now 75-year-old Banana says.
Becoming Anna Banana came about naturally, she says.
“It was pretty organic in a way. It started with the kids at the New School in Vancouver – it was a so-called free school – there were a group of boys who called themselves the monkey patrol, they’re the ones that started calling me Anna Banana.”
Banana taught at the school for several years, and the nickname followed her around.
“Before we left Big Sur … we were at a big party with a live band, [someone] knocked into me, set me off balance and I fell over backward and landed quite softly. I found myself sitting in a box of bananas. From that point on I’ve used the name and it turned out pretty well. I’ve had a pretty good art career,” she says.
Before the name stuck, she began her career as an artist in 1971 by clowning around in Bastion Square as the Town Fool.
“When I moved back, I had no way to really connect with people,” she says. So she set up a card table in Bastion Square and began painting rocks. “I was making like I was going to sell them as a gimmick to start an exchange. To get people talking. It quickly grew.”
In order to reach a wider audience, she began printing The Banana Rag, a newsletter that eventually led her to mail art and a connection to artists whose work went beyond the scope of paint on canvass. “It transformed my life,” she says. “My mailbox lit up and it kept expanding.”
Over her 45 year career she has created mail art, artistamps and done a wide range of performance art – much of it based on the humble banana – for audiences around the world. “I love to instigate humour and I love it when people have the nerve to play with it.”
But is it art?
It’s a question she loves to ask and has based numerous shows around it. “Some people think it is not art. Most of the general public still thinks art is a picture or painting or art object.”
As her fame grew around the world, people began sending her banana items. A cookie jar here, a lunchbox there, even a six-foot inflatable banana canoe. “I have more than one person can want,” she says, and so, she’s giving it all away.
As part of a joint six-week exhibition at Open Space and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, 45 Years Of Fooling Around With A. Banana offers a retrospective of her work. At Open Space, she presents the Encyclopedia Bananica with an interactive exchange, Regifting The Bananas at the end of the show. Some 1,200 items will be given away. “They’re not free, but there’s no money involved,” says Banana, who now calls Roberts Creek on the Sunshine Coast home. “At the Victoria Art Gallery there will be one wall with a series of my collected works. No bananas – it’s my more serious side.
A full-colour catalogue with texts by experts in Banana’s work from around the world, the first to document the full expanse of Banana’s remarkable career, will accompany the exhibition. For more information go to aggv.ca or openspace.ca.
45 Years Of Fooling Around With A. Banana
• Sept 18: Season Opening at AGGV, 8pm to 10pm
• Sept 19: Opening at Open Space 4pm, artist talk at 2pm
Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (AGGV), 1040 Moss; Open Space, 510 Fort.