Covered by Time and History: The films of Ana Mendieta is showing at the Katherine Nash Gallery in Minneapolis. In four rooms of the gallery, the installation of several short films (in continuous looping) immerses the viewer in her art.
Mendieta called her practice Earth Body. It was a fusion of body art and earth art. In the 1970s, an art critic identified her work as being feminist and goddess like. Mendieta did not agree with this analysis, and she made some changes to prevent further assumptions. Her work does have a spiritual quality, but she was also exploring her culture, immigration, and violence toward women.
Mendieta imprinted herself on the earth. She did not bury herself, but maintained the abstract figure /outline on the surface. This female earth form degraded as it was exposed to the elements. Often the form was filled with fire or water. Her performance art she documented by video and photographs. I found the sculpture and her earth works to suggest a vulva-like shape. She also had film and images of herself marked with animal blood (and a sidewalk, and a wall). This series was triggered by the murder of a female student, to acknowledge and address the violence. Some films are of her holding a decapitated chicken, wings flapping. It's visceral and powerful work.
In her film, she explained that she used the earth to express her connection with nature. This connection began as a child in Cuba, and later as an immigrant in the US, she found that her practice helped maintain her roots and connection with her culture.
Adriana Herrera Téllez, in Arte Al Día, has an excellent article about Mendieta's work that provides insight into her practice. Mendieta has been described by Olga Viso (currently at the Walker Art Center) as "inventive and iconoclastic." Téllez believes Mendieta has influenced several other artists, including Marina Abramovic, yet Mendieta has not received the attention she deserves. Téllez describes her artwork in this way:
experimental art, capable of fusing aspects of primitive and conceptual art, mythical traditions and ecology, the land and performance, the non-territorial concern for violence against the female gender and the transcultural, displaced identities and the universal archetype.Amanda Boetzkes says, “the artist does not only attempt to create a space in which the earth receives her body, but through her way of withdrawing it, provides a surface on which the elementary may appear the silueta fills with water, combustion or is blown apart and illuminates the face of the earth.”
Ana Mendieta's work has been a source of inspiration for me. Here is a poem that I wrote to pay homage to her.
for Ana Mendieta
the trembling of leaves
in the water’s mirror
shadow of your contour
shoulder on shore
line of tree your spine.
the stones depth, cold hip
I trace the root
in the earth’s script
where you’ve cast runes
written yourself in blood
or feathers spilled and mud
taken up with gunpowder
returned what never returns
to the continent or your hands.
Memory of fire that cast its spark
into the vast body giving birth
the branch that breaks
beneath the feet,
drew yourself upon a leaf
from a tree or upper story.
Lost with certainty
the perfect execution—
self was never the answer
c2012 Sheila Packa in Cloud Birds, Wildwood River Press, 2012.
Boetzkes, Amanda. The Ethics of Earth Art, University of Minnesota Press, 2010. P. 163
Téllez, Adriana Herrera. “Ana Mendieta Revisited.” November 30, 2010. Retrieved 15 October 2015. Arte Al Día / International / Contents / Artists / Ana Mendieta http://www.artealdia.com/International/Contents/Artists/Ana_Mendieta