When it comes to organizing the exhibition In search of the originalAnd A monograph covering 15 years of the Cuban-American artist’s interdisciplinary work Anna Mendetta (Havana, 1948- New York, 1985) Starting from their little-known pictorial beginnings, Vincent Honoré, Rahmouna Boutayeb, and the rest of the team of experts who researched the Mendieta archives imposed two conditions of entry to carry out their mission.
The first, as Honoré explains while walking through MO.CO’s almost completely deserted rooms. In Montpellier on a Tuesday morning, while the museum is still closed to the public, it was the task of assessing and highlighting the “contemporaneity” of a creator who, since the 1970s, has posed very modern and very contemporary themes, such as environmental feminism, the condemnation of violence against women, the veneration of nature, the revitalization of one’s own body, and the use of identity to communicate.
Given the validity of her approaches, the second requirement that the curators set themselves was to emphasize her modernity, and to avoid “accentuating” the artist’s cleverly foreshadowed 21st-century vision. not speaking for her by imitating her voice, but rather invoking her by tracing the traces of her ideas in the remnants of her production material, as well as in her reading, her research, and the community she has formed with other artists (creators like Nancy Spiro and Mary Beth Edelson). “She always went back to certain motifs, certain techniques and structures, and that’s what we aspire to show,” says Honoré, director of exhibitions at the museum which also has a gallery dedicated to the German painter. New Rauch. We wanted to show the complexity of her work, as she is often associated with certain clichés. The idea was to get rid of those clichés.”
At the mention of the stereotypes that hover over the name Ana Mendieta, Honoré alludes to a certain reductive view of her legacy. the person providing it Simply As a conceptual artist, or single as a feminist. “She has always challenged the idea of belonging to a country, to a political regime, to feminism or to certain aesthetic structures through a constant renewal of herself,” she points out, later emphasizing the almost circular speed with which the artist was incorporating in her practice—not copying—the artistic tendencies and expressive means of her era, from performance Video and photography.
However, the final cliché, the great black cloud, does not appear until the end of the conversation. Curators prefer to focus exclusively on the artist’s work, on what they have the power to decide and act upon. But the truth is, Mendieta is often remembered as a feminist icon not so much for her art as for her his unexplained death At the wrong time when she fell from the balcony of the house she was living in New York with her simple sculptor husband Carl Andrewhom he heard arguing violently that night on September 8, 1985. The event, for which the artist was prosecuted and acquitted, was clouded by an aura of injustice that led to a protest in front of the Guggenheim Museum in 1992 (which was displaying Andre at the time), whose slogan became a movement that survived for decades: “Where am I, Mendieta?”
This exhibition, is open until September 17th and is organized in collaboration with other institutions such as Mossack de Leon, which she will host at the beginning of 2024, wants to give an unequivocal answer to this question: she is here, in the rooms where her works are presented, a multifaceted and visionary work that transcends her tragic fate. We are told that Ana Mendetta was much more than just her circumstances. Also, more than one Cuban woman, like many of her compatriots, left her country for the United States. In her case, it was 12 and her sister Raquel, 15, under Operation Peter Pan, in which 14,000 unaccompanied minors were transported between 1960 and 1962.
Mendieta, who came from a family associated with art, arrived in Miami, but soon settled in Iowa, where she began studying primitive art and painting. Four of them were first featured in this anthology, as well as several photos that appeared in his archives during the research process for the compilation. The fact that these paintings—including a fierce self-portrait in which the artist exaggerates the features of her black descent—has never been exhibited before, according to Honoré, has to do with the fact that Mendieta “immediately detached herself from painting, because she thought it was not an appropriate medium to express the strength and energy she wanted to convey.”
Through photographs and videos documenting his actions, as well as actions recreated in the rooms of the museum, the exhibition underscores at every step the importance of the dual quality that Mendieta wanted to imprint in his art. The body—possessed, that of a young Latina woman, and thus subjected to a great degree of violence—goes from being the protagonist of Condemnations and from merging with the animal and vegetable in her early works to being softened by the symbol of the silhouette, the vaguely feminine figure she has used in series for years to sign the fusion between body art and the Art land which she pioneered, a communion between the individual and nature organized through performance (Although she never names her actions, aware of the yoke imposed by the controls.)
With those ephemeral silhouettes she draws or builds among trees and stones, in rivers and beaches, in ancient caves and tombs, Mendetta is composed as a sanctified presence of absence, like the niche of the mihrab or the black square. Malevich. Connected to nature through the use of perishable materials such as fire, blood, sand or tree branches, it combines ancestral traditions with a contemporary look. In his works, the boundaries between the visible and the invisible, the permanent and the temporary blur. “She was always playing with all of that and trying to be in the middle,” says Honoré. “Because being in the middle means being charged with energy, and that’s much more important.”
Conceived not as a sweeping retrospective but as a “celebration of vibrant contemporary political action,” the press release reads, it gravitates around the silhouette as an embodiment of the connection between the body and nature, leaving aside other proposals that Mendieta used to pave the way for modernism by placing the body and turning it into a cultural battleground. Thus, some works already established in the collective imagination such as Facial hair transplantation (1972), in which Mendetta glued her hair to her face, defying the canons of beauty and stereotypes affecting the female sex.
In the early years of the 1980s, already installed in New York, his work seems to lean towards a greater verticality. From lying on the ground, their silhouettes begin to soar towards the sky. In Rome, where he spent a year thanks to a scholarship, and almost for the first time in his career, he enjoys a studio in which he dedicates himself to making drawings that promote the balance between the points of view he has pursued throughout his career: there is no difference between documentation and finished work. “She is an amazing artist, and we get to look at her work again and again,” Honoré sums up. “There are so many things to say, and yet his work always escapes all sorts of rhetoric.”
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