"Searching for Ana and the power of woman..."
Ana Mendieta : Acknowledging Subjugation.
By Camille Okhio
The first piece by Ana Mendieta I’d ever seen was “Rape Scene.” In all of my art history courses, I had never gotten so solemn so fast at the change of a slide. This image was so deeply graphic and so obviously painful that it genuinely shocked me, and I like to say not much does. The strength it took to create this work is unfathomable to me. The strength it takes to consciously and purposefully retreat to an event, one that has not necessarily happened to you, and recreate it so that its importance may be acknowledged, and its negative power destroyed.
“Rape Scene” 1973..
This image shows a woman in the worst possible position she can be in. Yet it is a feminist message being translated into a language any informed viewer can read. Mendieta manages to speak of the suffering of women and or the continuous use of force against the fairer sex, yet her image rejects guilt and pity directly. Making her work constructive rather than redundant. Her work is more instructive than it is narrative.
Different pressure and neurosis exist for different orientations, postions, sexes and people. Mendieta exploits that. She takes a sip of it and spits it back in your face. But her action is less of an insult and more of a baptism. It washes away ignorance of the experience outside of yourself and brings in that knowledge of wisdom. Knowledge that weighs heavily on the viewer, but I think is meant to leave them empathetic.
Body tracks 1982.
The subjugation of the body occurs in many situations, times, positions and peoples, both through psychological and physical attacks. In fact, I do not know what anyone has lived without being on the receiving end and on the delivering end of this. The exchange of force and frustration seems to permeate any organized society. Mendieta displays this truth with a matter-of-factness I admire.
Incantation a Olokun-YemayÃ¡ , Oaxaca, Mexico, 1977.
My fascination with Mendieta escalated when I learned of her marriage to Carl Andre. And then my fascination sky rocketed when I learned of her mysterious murder/suicide falling from a window of their shared home. Her partnership with such a perfect example of the Alpha-Minimalist misogynist stereotype, made clear to me that Ana’s art was not a simple dick-stomping answer to sexism, but a well researched, fearless, heartfelt comment on the ever present power play between the Sexes and more broadly the vulnerability of the human body.
Mendieta’s body of work as I know it reaches beyond a “respectable” level of comfort for both men and women, making it truly provocative. She does not target a single offensive section of culture, but rather lays open the facts and lets us realize and judge for ourselves the injustice daily done upon any human body. Yet her work is not sad and its not angry its just clear.
Carl Andre’s “Rise” 2011.
Rather than showing Rape as its happening, she shows a stage of it that includes only the victim. This puts the viewer momentarily in the position of the Rapist. And that should make us hate her right? Viewing her work has something of a Nabokov effect in which the reader, in this case visual reader, is put in the position of Humbert Humbert forced to think about the position of the antagonist, perhaps against his or her own will.
Ana Mendieta, Untitled Cuilapán Niche, 1973.
Untitled (Blood Sign #1), 1974
This I believe is the nucleus of Mendieta’s genius. She is able to be herself, not step outside of her own skin, yet force her audience out of their own. She forces them to consider positions that are disturbing and uncomfortable, yet rarely does she leave her audience embittered with the experience of her work. Mendieta does not need to make a statement about the subjugation of the human body. The action has been done and the statement has been made. She leaves the task of digesting it and responding to it to us.
All pictures, courtesy of the Ana Mendieta Estate. Camille Okhio is a contributing art writer for by such and such.
Carl Andre’s Rise from the ACE GALLERY LOS ANGELES.
Featured image; Glass on Body Imprints, 1972