During the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was an emergence of women artists empowered by a new wave of social and political changes culminating with the 1968 student protests and the development of the Second wave of feminism. The women plunged into experimentation by employing new media such as video and performance, as well as the crafts (pottery, embroidery, ceramics, etc.) to articulate the male supremacy and all the social and political consequences of the patriarchy on their bodies, race, sexuality, and freedom of choice.
When it comes to new media, one of its most important ones was Ana Mendieta; the way she used video and performance to express her exploration of the representation of the female body and identity in regards to the ancient traditions and contemporaneity make her a genuine pioneer in a formal, conceptual and technical sense.
At approximately the same in Brazil, another artist was working in a similar fashion. Anna Maria Maiolino managed to build an impressive production regardless of the country’s social and political turmoil between 1968 and 1975. During her five decades-long career, Maiolino explored how the female body is perceived in the local context by criticizing the former authoritarian regime, articulating consumption and constantly challenging the patriarchal matrix through her works.
The similarities between Mendieta and Maiolino are numerous, so the upcoming exhibitions focused on their respective practices at Galleria Raffaella Cortese in Milan is not a mere coincidence, but rather the gallery’s well-though intervention.
Throughout her short-lived yet outstandingly influential career, Ana Mendieta managed to position herself as a multimedia artist whose works often resist categorization. Although initially trained as a painter, she quickly decided to shift to photography and video/filmmaking, and later on to sculpture and a kind of land art.
For this exhibition, the selection of films focused on Mendieta’s exploration of motherhood and birth is formed. Between 1971 and 1981, the artist produced one hundred and four films and videos that mostly stand as documentation of her performative actions based on the relationship between the female body and landscape. By drawing such a line, Mendieta traces back the forgotten legacy of the cult of Mother Nature and creates powerful imagery present in much of her photographic work as well.
The two films from the selection will be displayed in Italy for the first time, after the restoration and digitization undertaken by the Estate of Ana Mendieta. The piece Mirage from 1974 was shot by the artist during an excursion to the University of Iowa’s Lake Macbride Field Campus. It features Mendieta’s reflection in a framed mirror resting against a tree while she sits in the grass embracing a large belly as if pregnant.
With the following silent film Source made in 1975, the artist explored the notion of motherhood; it features the close-up of a female breast being manipulated continuously as a source of nourishment with the altered chromatic tone of blue added in post-production.
The film Birth (Gunpowder Works) from 1981 shows a female silhouette in the mud at the Iowan riverside landscape which gives birth to smoke coming from the womb-like cut. This film is related to Mendieta’s iconic Silueta (Silhouette) series, which features female body shapes (at the intersection of performance and land art) carved in various natural materials.
The exhibition focused on the production of Anna Maria Maiolino encompasses photographs, sculptures, and video works that the artist made throughout her practice. Her poetic visual language is underlined by the title Aqui e Agora or "here and now", indicating Maiolino’s relation to the active articulate of the present moment. The visitors will be able to see the artist’s early gestural works were made as a reaction to the dictatorship and censorship in Brazil during the 1970s and 1980s, which reflect the importance and the urgency of engaged actions, as well as her recent works.
The first room will include a pair of ceramic sculptures installed on black metal tables alongside the photographs from Maiolino’s renowned Fotopoemação (Photo-poem-action). While the four photographs Aos Poucos (Little by Little) made in 1976, serve as a testament to Maiolino’s political actions; the recent series Corpo/Paisagem (Body/ Landscape) from 2018 illustrate a shift from a politically charged use of the body to a more intimate one. On view will also be a rarely seen video titled Um Tempo (uma vez), [One Time, (once)], 2009/2012, narrated in Portuguese by Maiolino, featuring the images of bodies that extend the artist’s relationship to the landscape.
In the second room, a full list of Maiolino’s film and photographic achievements will be displayed on two tables, while the photographs and video stills will be encompassed in two retrospective digital collages. This exhibition part will also include two sculptures made of metal and raku ceramic focused on the artist’s fascination with language and written word.
It is now more than clear where the practices of these two fierce women artists meet. Both have created visually impressive and conceptually impeccable oeuvres rooted in body politics, aimed to articulate various layers of womanhood not only in the context of local traditions but also in the context of male supremacy and systematical repression of women. Therefore, it is not unusual that the works of Ana Mendieta and Anna Maria Maiolino are presented in a dialog serving as exceptional examples of women art which are still equally relevant.
Both Anna Maria Maiolino: Aqui e Agora and Ana Mendieta: Source will be on display at Galleria Raffaella Cortese in Milan until 8 February 2020.
Featured images: Anna Maria Maiolino - Sem Título (Untitled), serie Corpo/Paisagem - Fotopoemação (from Body/Landscape - Photopoemaction series), 2018. Photo in b/w, digital print, 60 × 90 cm. Ed. 3 + 2 AP. Courtesy the artist and Galleria Raffaella Cortese, Milan.
Sao Paulo, Brazil