Review by Lorena Muñoz-Alonso
Ana Mendieta was an extraordinarily charismatic Cuban woman and artist with an unique creative voice. Despite her work’s unquestionable appeal for any well-intentioned arts institution, Mendieta’s first solo show in the UK is at the commercial gallery, Alison Jacques. ‘Ana Mendieta: Silueta and Silence’ offers a small but highly representative survey of the artist’s practice, born in Havana but raised and educated in exile in the United States, first in Iowa and then in New York.
Ana Mendieta’s work is rooted in the most physical and primitive aspects of being: the four elements (earth, fire, water, wind), the human body (blood, sweat, skin, bones) and ritual (often through the Cuban rites of Santería). Mendieta’s preoccupation with combining these forces dominates her work, particularly the theme of the body becoming nature, or rather, returning to nature. Through video work, photography, drawings and an installation, all produced between 1972 and 1982, this exhibition serves as an introduction to the general audience while also offering followers more versed in Mendieta’s work an insight into less well-known pieces.
Upon entering the gallery, we are welcomed by a close-up of Mendieta’s face. The video, entitled ‘Sweating Blood’ (1973) presents the artist portrayed as static with her eyes closed. This seems to be a purely meditative piece, solely concentrating on the close-up, until drops of blood start to fall from Mendieta’s forehead, staining her face. In the next room, another video titled ‘Burial Pyramid’ (1974) shows the artist breathing in and out from beneath a nest of stones. With each breath, Mendieta’s emerges a bit more, revealing her naked body, invoking the painful cycle of birth and death, although whether suggestive of a plant or human is uncertain.
The exhibition also provides extensive illustration of her ongoing Silueta project, through videos, photographs and the installation. ‘Nañigo Burial’ (1976) consists of lit candles that melt into an iconic form, while a pair of photographs shows Mendieta’s bloody body concealed by a plastic sheet in ‘Body Prints’ (1974). This work resonates with her notorious piece ‘Rape’, a performance she had staged the previous year, when Mendieta invited her teachers and colleagues to her flat on the campus of the University of Iowa. When the group arrived, they found her naked, bent over and tied to a table in the dark, with blood running down her legs. This served as Mendieta’s fearless protest against the rape and murder of a fellow female student a few days earlier.
Mendieta’s creative play with death, blood, nature and the female condition - shown to be both strong and fragile at the same time - seems eerily evocative of her premature death. At the age of 36, in 1985, Mendieta plunged from the thirty-fourth floor apartment that she shared with her husband, the minimal uber-artist Carl Andre, in New York. Given the couple’s volatile relationship and Andre’s ensuing trial, from which he was acquitted, the issue remains a huge taboo that haunts both artists’ careers. This uncomfortable, personal subject burdens Mendieta’s work, while for Andre’s legacy, it is an obscure past event that is conveniently silenced. Nevertheless, Mendieta’s work can more than adequately speak for itself; a maverick combination of land-art, body-art, feminism and the Latin voice, executed with confidence, passion and conviction. Ana Mendieta (1948-1985), ever the artist’s artist, keeps fighting the elements even after death.
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