Ana Mendieta: Documents of a Life in Art

I first interacted with the artwork of the late Cuban American artist Ana Mendieta in fall of 2013. As I declared my second major in Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies (GWSS) my advisor noted my interesting pairing of disciplines, a major in GWSS and acceptance into the Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) program for visual arts. She mentioned the connection immediately brought to mind the work of Ana Mendieta and prompted that I must be excited for the exhibition of Mendieta’s films on campus in the fall of 2015. Embarrassed by my lack of awareness, I rushed home to google Ana Mendieta and was mesmerized by images of a young revolutionary Latina artist. Her presence ranged from dominating to barely lingering as I flipped through photographs and documentations of her performative and earth-body works. There is something so intriguing, captivating and ethereal about her photographs and films. I immediately found myself drawn to the way in which they engage with ideas of permanence and impermanence, intersections of culture and identity, and experiences of spirituality, loss, and femininity. I quickly contacted Howard Oransky, director of the Katherine E. Nash Gallery, inquiring if I could in be involved in the production of the exhibition. At that point I did not expect that within a year’s time I would be entirely immersed in a career-shaping project surrounding her work.

I spent the spring of 2014 working with Howard, under the academic guidance of Amy Kaminsky, to create an independent research study in the GWSS department. Over the course of spring and summer I created and began to operate this blog, which I have utilized as a platform for engaging with and analyzing many of the films in the exhibition. My interactions with Mendieta’s work enabled me to connect with local and broader communities of artists, university faculty engaged in Chicano Latina studies and GWSS, and even empowered me to speak at a fundraising event at President Kaler’s home.

As I now enter the fall semester of 2014 I am continuing my participation in this independent research study. However, I have begun work on a new facet of this project, which will materialize as a documentary exhibit. The exhibit, Ana Mendieta: Documents of a Life in Art will be presented in the T.R. Anderson Gallery at Wilson Library in the fall of 2015 in conjunction with the presentation of Covered in Time and History: The Films of Ana Mendieta, an exhibition of Mendieta’s films in the Katherine E. Nash Gallery. I will be curating the documentary exhibit independently, an opportunity that I am immensely grateful for, but also one that will require an intense dedication of time and effort. Guiding me through this process are my faculty mentors, Howard Oransky (Director of the Katherine E. Nash Gallery), who is curating Covered in Time and History: The Films of Ana Mendieta and Deborah Boudewyns (Arts, Architecture and Landscape Librarian), who has studied extensively and written about Mendieta’s work.

I am currently in the process of applying for and seeking to enable me to obtain the resources that I need to complete the process of curating this exhibit and to contribute to the production and printing of an exhibit catalogue. The catalogue will serve as a tangible record of my work and extension of my research beyond the life of the exhibit, allowing people to continue to engage with and understand her works. I will continue to post here on the blog throughout this process, however most of my work will now be focused on curating the exhibit and writing the catalogue rather than continuing to analyze the films.

Ana Mendieta: Documents of a Life in Art will reflect the resources that I have and will continue to utilize in my research on and analyses of Ana Mendieta and her body of work. I hope to address the way in which Mendieta’s work fits into an ongoing discourse about the place in which women, and particularly women of color, fit into the art world. I am interested in the way in which Mendieta’s identity, as a woman of color and a Cuban American immigrant, as well as her violent death, have pigeon holed the way in which her art is viewed and interpreted at large. Because her life and career were cut short nearly 30 years ago in 1985, I am also interested in how the label of “feminist artist” she was prescribed has shifted with the evolution of modern feminist theory.

In presenting the documents that I utilized to gather information about Mendieta, her work, and surrounding themes and issues, I will enable viewers to perceive her works existing beyond the defining categories in which they are placed. I intend to challenge viewers to look beyond the dominant and singular narratives they may perceive as essential to being a Cuban American, feminist, immigrant artist. The documentary exhibition will serve as an opportunity for viewers to educate themselves on intersections of identity and culture. It will provide a discussion point on the way in which the issues Mendieta addressed have and have not shifted or progressed. My hope is that through curating Ana Mendieta: Documents of a Life in Art, I can provide viewers of Covered in Time and History: The Films of Ana Mendieta with information on Mendieta and her works that will enable them to connect with her work the way in which I have been able to.

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