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7 Outstanding Films by Ana Mendieta, Soon on View at Gropius Bau

  • The films from 1973 and 1978 will be shown on new exhibition.
April 14, 2018
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

The period of the end of the 60’s and the beginning of the 70’s was marked by an enormous social and political shift. The rebellion of young people spread like a forest fire; sexual revolution, anti-militarism, hippie movement and finally student protests have brought a completely new perception of reality. Such an atmosphere empowered women to stand for themselves and so the emancipation process started with the second wave of feminism. Eager to claim their equality, the feminists emphasized various historical aspects of repression and segregation.

Logically, the artistic production reflected the revolutionary spirits of the times, especially within the phenomenon of conceptual art. Based on the deconstruction of the art object and introduction of new media (video art, performance, land art), all of the mentioned ideas found their haven. The majority of feminist artists started exploring political and social implications of their gender by questioning the themes of sexuality, reproductive rights, domestic work and other issues. Therefore, the choice of the body as a central tool or a media was rather justified.

Ana Mendieta – One of The Most Important Figures of Performance Art

Perhaps one of the most prominent female artists of the seventh and the eight decade is Cuban-born Ana Mendieta. By using (her own) female body as a central motif, she managed to construct an outstanding oeuvre by questioning the issues of identity, displacement, belonging and, in general, a woman’s experience. Mendieta has mostly worked with film and photography in order to capture her performances, sculptures, land art, and site-specific interventions. The rising career of the artist was interrupted by her sudden and tragic death in 1985, for which Carl Andre, her partner and the famous American artist, was accused.

The work of this extraordinary artist has never seized to lose its significance and is still rather relevant, especially in a light of the contemporary migrations. Therefore, an established Berlin-based art institution Martin Gropius Bau has decided to organize the exhibition Covered in Time and History: The Films of Ana Mendieta. This three years long project was made possible by the Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, the University of Minnesota and the Galerie Lelong & Co, and will be on view from 20 April until 22 July 2018. The curators Lynn Lukkas and Howard Oransky did an extensive selection consisting of a large number of restored and digitized cinematic achievements followed by three photographic segments.

Bellow is a brief list of  seven outstanding films of Ana Mendieta which are going to be present on the upcoming exhibition.

Editors’ Tip: Covered in Time and History: The Films of Ana Mendieta

Born to a prominent family in Havana but exiled to the United States as a girl, Ana Mendieta (1948–1985) is regarded as one of the most significant artists of the postwar era. During her too-brief career, she produced a distinctive body of work that includes drawings, installations, performances, photographs, and sculptures. Less well known is her remarkable and prolific production of films. This richly illustrated catalog presents a series of sequential color stills from each of twenty-one original Super 8 films that have been newly preserved and digitized in high definition for the 2015 exhibition, combined with related photographs, and reference still images from all of the artist’s 104 film works; together these illustrations sample the full range of the artist’s film practice from 1971 to 1981.

Featured image: Ana Mendieta – Sweating Blood, 1973. Super 8 film, color, silent © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC.,Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co.

  • With this work The Cuban artist has questioned the topic of death.

Blood Writing, 1974

Although born in Cuba, Ana Mendieta moved to America when she was still a child due to the problematic political status of her father, where she finished the Intermedia Program at the University of Iowa. This particular film is one of the earliest ones and was shot in the Iowa City.

This work is actually threefold: it is a performance done in front of the camera, an artist statement, and an action painting with blood as an essential material. It can be seen as a critical articulation of the social context e.g. abortion rule and the murder and rape of a young Iowa university student.

Featured image: Ana Mendieta – Blood Writing, 1974. Super 8 film, color, silent. © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC.,Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co.

  • Creek, 1974

Creek, 1974

This film was shot the same year as the previous one, yet it shows more complex approach to the very issue of female principle  in regards to the ancient equation of womanhood and nature.

Namely, Ana Mendieta depicted herself almost as a live sculpture or, moreover, as some kind of a water entity. The female body has become an integral part of nature, it no longer has to convey to social norms or cannons of representation. Furthermore, by doing so the Cuban artist has moved to the exploration of pagan/pre-Christian traditions and cults, which will be even more thoroughly underlined in her later works.

Featured image: Ana Mendieta – Creek, 1974. Super 8 film, color, silent. © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC.,Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co.

  • Anima, Silueta de Cohetes (Firework Piece), 1976

Anima, Silueta de Cohetes (Firework Piece), 1976

Anima, Silueta de Cohetes (Firework Piece), a film of symbolical title, brings us even closer to the specific agenda of Ana Mendieta. It was shot in Mexico, as the rest of her film works were taken with easy to handle and accessible Super 8.

The shape of a female figure is practically shaped out of fireworks. Set against the dark sky, this blurred silhouette is outlined by smoke, so the whole scene looks like an apparition of divinity. With this film, in particular, the artist seems to be articulating her own spiritual quest, while at the same time it can be read as a strong political statement.

Featured image: Ana Mendieta – Anima, Silueta de Cohetes (Firework Piece), 1976. Super 8 film, color, silent. © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC.,Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co.

  • In Silueta de Arena from 1978 Mendieta shown sculptures made of earth

Silueta de Arena, 1978

During the course of time, the motif of silhouette has become the trademark of Ana Mendieta, which is apparent with this film shot in 1978.

It shows perfectly the artists need to introduce and inscribe different cultural heritage which is centered around the female cult into the mainstream art circles which were (and still are) phallocentric. The only difference is that instead of representing her own figure in nature, she started sculpting (mostly with earth) slightly abstract shapes reminiscent of her own body. Interestingly so, these interventions or objects do change in accordance with the weather conditions.

Featured image: Ana Mendieta – Silueta de Arena, 1978. Super 8 film, color, silent. © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC.,Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co.

  • The american artist Karl Andre was partner of this Cuban performer.

Untitled: Silueta Series, 1978

Similar to the previous one is this film shot as a part of the Silueta Series, which was actually a long-term project which began in 1973. Mendieta made over hundred works within the series from natural materials such are mud, gunpowder, moss, flowers, which were all based on a representation of omnipresent female force.

By 1978, the artist has simplified the form in order to emphasize that her art is not dealing anymore with the person of herself, rather it should be perceived as trace of ancient and forgotten traditions. Actually, these artworks are silent observes, keepers of (female) memory and serve as signifiers of wandering souls.

Featured image: Ana Mendieta – Untitled: Silueta Series, 1978. Super 8 film, color, silent. © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC.,Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co.

  • Untitled: Silueta Series, 1978

Untitled: Silueta Series, 1978

Another film from the same series captured the final and perhaps the most sacred of all the elements and that is fire. In all of the traditions, it symbolizes both the place of destruction and resurrection, so the burning object apparently serves as a ritualistic one.

Nevertheless, this filmed action could be perceived as an attempt of Ana Mendieta to transcend context in which she has worked, as well as the given framework. The curiosity is that all the figures appearing in the series are represented with their arms raised (as the Minoan snake goddess) or held next to the body.

Featured image: Ana Mendieta – Untitled: Silueta Series, 1978. Super 8 film, color, silent. © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC.,Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co.

  • Esculturas Rupestres (Rupestrian Sculptures), 1981

Esculturas Rupestres (Rupestrian Sculptures), 1981

Four years before tragic death, Ana Mendieta returned to her homeland and has released the series of figures carved in the walls of caves of Jaruco, which are of great historical importance. By doing so, the artist was eager to establish the connection between the artistic expression from the past and her own.

Such an action was of performative nature, which once again proves the power of her work and the ongoing search for various allegorical aspects of female consciousness and emancipation in regards to spirituality and nature.

Featured image: Ana Mendieta – Esculturas Rupestres (Rupestrian Sculptures), 1981. Super 8 film, black and white, silent. © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC.,Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co. All images courtesy Gropius Bau.