(Above: Detail of Earth to Earth. Click on image to enlarge.)
Earth to Earth
24" x 18"
Photo transfer on fabric; self-guided free-motion machine embroidery with trapunto, beading, and artificial flowers collected from cemetery dumpsters.
This piece was made for Karen Musgrave
(Crossing the Line: Artists at Work), a group of approximately twenty
art quilters who are dedicated to making a 24" x 18" art quilt every six
months in response to a given exhibition theme. The exhibition theme
is an exploration of women artists who aren't included in standard art history texts, shown often in major museums, and part of many private collections. The title for this upcoming traveling exhibition is Rewriting Art History.
I selected Ana Mendieta (November 18, 1948 – September 8, 1985), a Cuban born child refugee whose girlhood was spent in various foster families in Iowa. She earned a BA, MA in painting, and MFA in Intermedia at the University of Iowa under a pioneer in contemporary art education, Hans Breder. Breder, a working professional artist and Ana's lover, introduced his students to the shocking, avant-garde work of the Viennese Activists and other modern trends. His encouragement helped Ana develop her own, unique "earth body" works for which she is best known. Her "Silueta Series" (1973–1980), in particular, focused on the feminine silhouette in a natural setting. Ana Mendieta often included her own nude body, documenting the intersection of earth art, body art, and performance art through both still photographic images and film. In 1983 Ana Mendieta was awarded the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome. Her residency in Italy afforded her time to explore art as an object, including drawing and sculpture. By this point in her life, Ana had moved to New York City, ended her relationship with Breder, and was among the first American artist to visit her native Cuba. In Cuba, she explored a sense of displacement, loss, and identity through new earth body works. Ana Mendieta died after a fall from her 34th floor Greenwich Village apartment where she lived with minimalist sculptor Carl Andre, her husband of only eight months. Neighbors heard the couple's violent argument but there were no eyewitnesses. Andre was tried but acquitted of her murder.
Mendieta's estate is managed by the Galerie Lelong in New York City. Her work is included in the collections of the Guggenheim Musuem (NYC), Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC), the Whitney (NYC), MoMA (NYC), the Art Institute of Chicago, Centre Pompidou (Paris), and the Tate (London).
I first became aware of Ana Mendieta in 2004 during a chance visit to the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC. The museum had just opened a major retrospective of her work, "Earth Body, Sculpture and Performance". Initially, I wasn't particularly impressed, but, over time, the images stayed with me and peaked my curiosity. Later I ordered and read Olga Viso's book Ana Mendieta: Earth Body, the book that accompanied the retrospective. Through the pages, I learned much about the difficulties faced by women artists in the 1970s, especial women working through performance and earth based media including their own bodies. Feminist artists at that time were generally trivialized and denounced as narcissistic. In 1992 feminists protested outside the Guggenheim Museum with banners reading, "Where is Ana Mendiata?" These referred to both the suspicious circumstances surrounding her death and her famous husband's acquittal but also the conspicuous absence of work created by women artists in high-profile art institutions.
My piece, Earth to Earth, was created as a response to Ana Mendieta's life and death as well as her work. By posing my own nude body on a spray of funeral flowers, I physically worked in Ana Mendieta's medium, documenting the experience through photography and fibers. My concept asks, "What if Ana Mendieta had lived to post menopausal years?" This question and others is directly related to my ongoing exploration of the ethereal nature of memory, the passing of time, and the traces one might leave on earth to mark one's existence. My hope is that Ana Mendieta would have approved and that by continuing her legacy, art history might include a more equatable number of works by female artists, even me.