Ana Mendieta - Selected Works



20 July – 6 October 02


In the context of exhibitions of artists from earlier generations, who were particularly influencial for the development of contemporary art, the KW Institute for Contemporary Art are pleased to present an exhibition of early works from the Cuban Performance and Body art pioneer Ana Mendieta from July 21st until October 6th 2002. Ana Mendieta - Selected Works includes 24 photographs and two slide projections on early series of performances and portraits that have been realised between 1972 and 1973 party during her studies in the University of Iowa. Those works mirror how much Ana Mendieta (born, Cuba 1948, died, New York 1985) has influenced not only the development of Performance and Body Art but also contemporary artists such as Marina Abramovic or Cindy Sherman.

Mendieta entered the University of Iowa for an MFA in Painting, and switched her major to Intermedia in 1971. The Multi-Media Department, founded by Hans Breder at the University of Iowa became a critical and artistic Mecca for Performance Art. As a student Mendieta was influenced by the leading Body and Performance artists of the day, such as Bruce Naumann, Robert Smithson, Robert Wilson, Dennis Oppenheim and Vito Acconci, many of whom taught or were discussed in the Multi-Media Department. It was in this environment of freedom and experimentation that Mendieta made her first Performance actions with the body.

The earliest examples of these body works are presented here in Mendieta's two works: Facial Cosmetic Variations (Wig and Make Up) and Facial Cosmetic Variations (Wig and Stocking), made in January and February 1972. In both of these works, presented in Estate portfolios from the artist's vintage slides, Mendieta altered her appearance, including her race, with the help of wigs and make up. Her chameleon transformation of character predates many artists experiments with identity.

Mendieta extended her research on the distortion and sculpturality of the body in Glass on Body Imprints. In these two series, also completed in Winter 1972, she pressed squares of glass against her face and body, distorting her features. The imprint of her body on glass prefigured her Silueta works, (1973-80) in which the imprint of her body was made in the landscape, as an extended and iconic self-portrait.

In 1973 a nursing student at the University of Iowa was brutally raped, then murdered, by another student. Mendieta was outraged by this event and created Rape/Murder, in response to it.

For the Performance Rape/Murder, Mendieta invited people to come to her apartment. When the audience arrived, they found the door ajar, and were confronted by Mendieta's half nude body bent over a table, and smeared with blood. She remained motionless, which made the audience uneasy, as it was not clear whether they were witnessing the bloody aftermath of a murder or experiencing Perfomance Art. Like many of the artists of her time, Mendieta was interested in the audience's participation in the work of art, but in this work, her social and political feelings were also manifest. Mendieta completed another Rape/Murder Performance, not exhibited here, equally horrifc and frightening, this time in the serene landscape surrounding the campus.

In May 1973, Mendieta completed People Looking at Blood (Moffit Street). For this action Mendieta photographed passerbys who came upon an ambigious square of blood on the street, a reference to her Rape/Murder works. Their indifference or fear is noted in the series of slides projected. It is also possible that her position as an exile also influenced her point of view in this work, as she acts as both observer and outsider, conducting a semi-secret ritual. In the 1970's Mendieta moved away from direct Perfomance to a series of works in the landscape which she titled Siluetas or silhouettes. In the Silueta series, the most thorough and prolific group of works in her career, she used natural materials, including fire, to shape a female figure in nature. In many of these works, ritualistic practice imbues the photograph, with spirituality and power. The blending of cultural signifiers as well as Mendieta's ability to communicate transcendence through ritual is one of the differences between Mendieta and other Body and Performance artists of the time, and is aptly seen in the works on view. The blend of cultural signifers and Mendieta's ability to communicate an idea of transcendence and ritual, are part of the characteristic, which distinguish her form the other Body and Performance artists of her time. Moreover, her drastic images of criminal and physically injuring actions, depicted on an ambiguous level between documentation and fiction, place her at the forefront of the social-political, often Performance based art of the present generation of artists from Central and South America. Together with the exhibition Francis Alÿs - Alejandro González Iñárritu - Politics of Rehearsal, Ana Mendieta - Selected Works anticipates the comprehensive overview of contemporary art from Mexico, Mexico City: An Exhibition about the Exchange Rates of Bodies and Values, which the KW will present from September 22nd, 2002 thorugh to January 2003.

Ana Mendieta - Selected Works was realised thanks to Galerie Lelong, New York, The Springmaier Collection and the Collection Gordts-Vanthournout.