Hi, my name is Ana

“My name is Ana. Nowadays people go to museums to look at my artworks, which means to look at me. You may find on display a picture of me from when I was a little girl, dressed up as a butterfly by the beach. I still remember that day at mi aunt’s back in the island where I first set down roots before been transplanted. I didn’t come, I was sent here. I was 12 years old and full of hope when my parents put me in that plane that ultimately landed me in the fields of Duburke, Iowa. Have you ever been to Iowa? There is no ocean there. How are you going to free a tropical butterfly in such a vastness? I felt out of context, strange to their eyes, discriminated, isolated. I grew up very quickly there. I learned. Iowa City was and is an oasis of culture in the middle of cornfields, thanks to the University. Hans became my beautiful, German, and famous professor of art. He was wise enough to invent words to describe his creations and dreams. In 1972 he went to Oaxaca, Mexico, to teach. He took me along with him for the first time. There, we made love under the shade of forgotten ruins. I found there a code, an anchor, and different ways to spread my visions into shapes. My turning point in art was in 1972, when I realized that my paintings were not real enough for what I want the image to convey, and by real I mean I wanted my images to have power, to be magic”. Ana Mendieta was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1948, and died in New York at the age of 36. While alive, she didn’t achieve fame or wealth. She was exposed to that life style through her love relationships with well established artists. During her years as fine art student, she was a companion to Hans Breder. Later she married minimalist sculptor Carl Andre. Both men became her mentors. She competed with both of them, struggling to find and articulate her own art. Sadly, it was death what launched her into newspapers’ headlines. She fell from her 34th floor apartment in Greenwich Village. Minutes before, she was seen arguing violently with her husband Carl Andre. Her sister, Raquelin Mendieta, accused him of murder. He was put on trial, and was found innocent as the jury sided with his defense that she committed suicide. She never had a solo exhibition during her life. Mendieta showed her work in group shows, always as part of a bigger group of emerging artists or, at its best, with Carl Andre in duo exhibits that took them to three different cities. In 1987 the Musueum of Contemporary Art had an exhibit titled Ana Mendieta: A Retrospective. From that point on, her work has been shown at galleries and museums throughout the United States and Europe. “in those museums you may find a sequence of color pictures of me. I remember that day very well too. I invited some fellow students and a couple of professors from the University of Iowa to a gathering at my place. They found me standing by a table with my torso laying on top. I seemed to be dead or unconscious. My tropical rear end bare skin exposed, spattered with red paint and animal blood. In town, we all have been watching and talking for days about the news of a rape committed in Kansas. I felt the scream of pain of that anonymous woman in a nameless town in the Midwest, as I felt the desires hidden in stone goddess, buried in a remote place in time. The world had changed me. I no longer wanted to be a butterfly. I was leaving behind imitation, and seeking reinvention. On that day all of them saw how I entered naked into arts”. To the untrained artistic eye, Mendieta’s work may be no less than disturbing. Her art is aimed at your feelings more than at your reason, more intended to explore social taboos than to disguise them with beauty, and more directed to transgression than to representation. She freely appropriated elements of disconnected ancient cultures, from Mesoamerican ruins to African ritual traditions. Minimalism, conceptual, body, and earth art also influenced her. Her works display similar ideas to those of Vito Acconci, Robert Smithson, or – more closely – Mary Beth Edelson. Throughout the years, she merged it all in an intrinsically personal manner. Mendieta used non-conventional media and techniques. Most, if not all of her work, have an ephemeral nature. She stated once: “I’m not interested in the formal qualities of my materials but their emotional and sensual ones.” In her early period she did “street actions” such as splashing blood in a sidewalk to record the ordinary people’s reaction with Super 8 video, or performing on the rooftop of Hotel Principal in Oaxaca, covering herself with a white sheet and carrying a bloody animal heart on top. A very important part of her work took place at the Old Man Creek, near Iowa City. There, she performed many variations of herself immerse in the landscape. In one piece she lied naked on the ground scarcely covered by wildflowers, in other, she camouflaged herself against a fallen tree, and in a third one she floated naked in a brook. Still in another she appeared naked again by the bank of a river, covered by blood and chicken feathers, standing with her arms open. The earth itself was the main media, and the body – her body – the main subject of her work. In one way or another, she always evoked burial, death, and sacrifice. She coined the term “earth body” to describe this way of doing art. The presence of her own body in her works became recurrent. In one of her pieces – one she left untitled but some curator accurately baptized Body Tracks – the artist appears standing back to the camera and resting on a white canvas with her arms open. Slowly, she drags down her hands, leaving a red trace throughout the canvas and then stepping out the scene after finishing her agonizing signature. Not always she explicitly showed herself. She also referred to the body by the the use of simple lines. The series entitled Siluetas (Silhouettes) are a good example of the above. Molding mud, shaping gunpowder or candles, or carving trees, Mendieta evoked the human body over and over again. A female body that reminds us the discreet charm of the prehistoric Venus of Willendorf, a small sculpture representative of woman’s fertility. A lot have been said about Ana Mendieta’s works. Interpretations have ranged from feminism intentions to announcements of her death, the search for a lost identity or the sacrilegious use of secret rituals. In the art world, only eccentricity and early death could trumps originality and quality as passports to recognition. Ana Mendieta had it all. Ultimately when you look at her works, she left us with a message hard to forget even today with so many blinking banners and reality TV. “I didn’t have a dark side because the darkest of me was expelled. I left marks in rivers, on rocks, on leaves, and on both, the shores of my adopted land and my beloved island. I wanted to be an island, and island I was in the mix of the four elements. My figure, shaped in the sand, remained for a while. After so many waves it vanished to disappear. But if you looked at me and you open yourself to me, I’ll exist yet in another time”. Ana Mendieta: Earth Body is currently on view at the Miami Art Museum (MAM). This comprehensive exhibition examines the brief yet prolific career of Ana Mendieta, and includes more than 100 works from numerous public and private collections in the United States, Europe and Latin America. The exhibition will run through January 15th, 2006.

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