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Review: Who is Ana Mendieta?

The life and work of the brilliant Cuban feminist artist is on display in an innovative graphic novel exhibition

Anna McNay

Tue, 23 Oct 2012 13:34:29 GMT | Updated 4 years today

Ana Mendieta (1948-1985) was a "brown-skinned, female, immigrant artist," sent from Cuba to the USA at the age of 12, by her politically prominent parents, as part of the United States-assisted Operation Peter Pan, to escape Fidel Castro's regime. The trauma of this forced exile, and the ensuing years of mistreatment in a group home for disturbed children, three foster homes, and boarding school, informed much of her later artistic output.


Using her own body as her medium, and investigating issues of power, longing, nature, and the transience of life, Mendieta was a pioneer of video art, producing close to 80 films in her short career, and creating numerous ephemeral performances and sculptures, often auto-destructing, and documented only via slides, photographs, prints, and artist's books. Often harrowing to the viewer, she would re-enact scenes of rape and violence, or burn, explode, or trace the shape of her body, hersilueta, with blood into the natural landscape.


In 1985, she married the Minimalist sculptor Carl Andre (whose bricks, Equivalent VIII, 1966, are in Tate Modern), and, less than eight months later, after a tempestuous relationship charged by her growing success, and on the night when she wanted to confront him with evidence of his affair, which she wished to use against him in a case for divorce, she fell to her death from the 34th storey window of his Greenwich Village apartment. Andre was charged with her murder, but later acquitted, after the third trial.


On the request of his lawyer, the records were permanently sealed. In the eyes of many, however, the matter was never satisfactorily closed: "I see her death as part of some larger denial of the feminine," said artist Carolee Schneemann.


"Like a huge metaphor saying, we don't want this depth of feminine eroticism, nature, absorption, integration to happen. It's too organic. It's too sacral. In a way, her death also has a symbolic trajectory. More than Ana dies, when she dies."


"Nothing in this world happens by itself, everything is linked, and that is the message Mendieta was exploring with her art," writes Christine Redfern, one of the two creators of the graphic novel, Who is Ana Mendieta?, published by The Feminist Press in 2011.


The twenty pages of this book, along with three silkscreen prints, are currently on display at Space Station Sixty-Five, in an exhibition of the same title. The pages summarise the story of Mendieta's life and death, setting it in the context of the feminist art movement.


The black and white drawings, by Caro Caron, bring the events to life, and, in the words of Redfern, "[confront] the void into which her work, like the work of so many other women, has fallen." Ephemeral as her works may have been, and short and tragic her life, Mendieta's legacy is not a flame which will easily be extinguished.


Space Station Sixty-Five

Until 4 November 2012



Anna McNay

twitter: @annamcnay




Who is Ana Mendieta?

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All images © Space Station Sixty-Five and

Christine Redfern & Caro Caron

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