Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Films of Ana Mendieta at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

Ana Mendieta: still from Anima, Silueta de Cohetes (Firework Piece), 1976; Super 8 film, color, silent. © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC. Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York.

The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive presents "Covered in Time and History: The Films of Ana Mendieta." During her brief career—just fourteen years, between 1971 and 1985—the Cuban-born American artist Ana Mendieta (1948–1985) produced a stunning body of work that included performances, drawings, sculptures, installations, and photographs.

Ana Mendieta, “Untitled (Facial Hair Transplant)” (1972) and “Untitled (Glass on Body Imprints)” (1972) at ‘Ana Mendieta Traces’ exhibition, Hayward Gallery 2013 (all images courtesy Hayward Gallery)
Mendieta claimed for herself the tradition of the neolithic. This was a gesture towards a time when all current critical pigeon holes appear redundant. And if a single project makes a case for creative time travel, it is her Rupestrian Sculptures of 1981. These really took art back to its source, carving elemental forms out of the soft limestone wall of a Cuban cave called Escalaras de Jaruco. The artist talked about reawakening local Taíno goddesses. In her search for the neolithic, Mendieta tapped into a primal strain which makes her work even more powerful.

But Mendieta’s best known works were a series known as Siluetas, outlines of her own body in and around the natural environment. She fashioned them in Mexico, Long Island, ironically given last week's vote, Indiana, and, Iowa. She shaped them from rocks, leaves, branches, dye and gunpowder, photographing each after completion.

Mary Jane Jacob suggests in her book Ana Mendieta: The "Silueta" Series (1973-1980) that much of Mendieta's work was influenced by her interest in the religion Santería, as well as a connection to Cuba. Jacob attributes Mendieta's "ritualistic use of blood," and the use of gunpowder, earth and rock to Santería's ritualistic traditions

This exhibition, organized by the Katherine E. Nash Gallery at the University of Minnesota, brings together twenty-one of Mendieta’s recently preserved filmworks—many of which have had little previous exposure—in addition to a selection of related photographs; to date it is the largest grouping of the artist’s filmworks to be presented in an exhibition in the United States. With her unique synthesis of sculpture, earth art, and performance, Mendieta unflinchingly investigated what it means to be human, and her artwork continues to speak powerfully to diverse audiences across generations.

Shrine to Oshun in the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove.
Ana Mendieta was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1948. Because of her father's political activities in Cuba, she was sent to the United States (without her parents) in 1961 at the age of twelve. After receiving undergraduate and graduate degrees in studio and intermedia art from the University of Iowa, Mendieta moved to New York in 1978. She received multiple grants, including the Rome Prize from the American Academy, and she produced important artworks in Cuba, Italy, Mexico, and the United States.

She died in 1985 at the age of thirty-six under mysterious circumstances, possibly murdered by her husband, the artist Carl Andre. This case still is not resolved although Andre used his influence to get a verdict of "not guilty" from a jury. (The Case of Anna Mendieta in Art in America).

Blood and Feathers, courtesy BAMPFA
The exhibition comprises twenty-one filmworks projected in the galleries, many made during her travels to Mexico in the 70's.  It is in these filmworks that Mendieta established her unique earth-body aesthetic, merging her figure with the natural landscape through an exploration of history and memory. The artist was influenced by and interested in many of the artistic movements of her time, including Minimalism, Conceptualism, earth art, performance art, and feminism, as well as the historical and spiritual legacies, both ancient and modern, of many indigenous cultures from Africa, Europe, and the Americas. She drew from each of these influences but ultimately it is the originality and surprising inventiveness of her work that sets it apart.

Also on view are three series of photographs related to the filmworks, and a short 2015 documentary, Ana Mendieta: Nature Inside, produced by Cecilia M. Mendieta,

On view November 9, 2016 through January 15, 2017 in BAMPFA's lower-level Theater 2.


From Wikipedia:  Jacob, Mary Jane. "Ana Mendieta: The "Silueta" Series, 1973-1980." Galerie Lelong, 1991. pp. 4, 10, 

Her Body, Herself from the NY Times: 


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