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Exhibition at Martin Gropius Bau features 23 of Ana Mendieta's multi-layered film works
Ana Mendieta, "Silueta de Arena", 1978. Super 8 film, colour, silent. Photo: The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC., Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co.

BERLIN.- From 20 April to 22 July 2018 the exhibition Covered in Time and History: The Films of Ana Mendieta at the Gropius Bau features 23 of Ana Mendieta's multi-layered film works, which have been restored and digitised after several years of research.

Ana Mendieta (1948-1985) is one of the outstanding artists of the 1970s and 1980s. Her work moves freely between the disciplines of body art, land art and performance art, without being bound to a particular medium or single movement. The connecting element across her practice is the recurring use of the abstracted shape of the female form, often in dialogue with the natural world, in order to question the supposed separation between the body and nature.

Film and photography play a central role for Ana Mendieta. Beginning in 1973, her practice emerges twofold: She creates works within landscapes that change and transform over time, and which exist in permanence as both still and moving images. Ana Mendieta speaks of her early works as tableaus, later as sculptures, and keenly emphasises the process of image-making in her work, underscoring that the film and photographic materials extend beyond mere performance documentation and firmly have their own significance as artworks.

While marked by her own biography and formative years in the 1970s and 1980s, Ana Mendieta's practice remains profoundly relevant today. In the context of current patterns of migration, a new pertinence arises as to how she addresses the ongoing search for rootedness and a sense of belonging. Her works are steeped in the existential dilemmas of our times: the experience of personal, cultural, and political displacement; the loss of connection and continuity with an individual and collective past; the pressure of learning a new language as a migrant to another country, as well as the confrontation with a different system of social norms.

Ana Mendieta was born on 18 November 1948 in Havana, Cuba. Her father actively supported counter-revolutionary activities, and fearing for his children’s safety, Ana Mendieta and her sister were sent to live in the United States when she was twelve years old. In Iowa, Ana Mendieta was shuttled from orphanages to foster homes until the arrival of her mother five years later. Later, in an art world primarily dominated by the white and male perspective, the experience of exile was central to Ana Mendieta's work. In the Intermedia Programme at the University of Iowa, Ana Mendieta’s use of and confrontation with the female body stands in stark contrast to her male colleagues’ understanding of the means and possibilities of conceptual art. Ana Mendieta’s iconic use of blood, a material rich in symbolism, from spiritual ecstasy to physical brutality, can be seen in the early films on view, Moffitt Building Piece and Sweating Blood, 1973. During this period, the artist’s body features prominently in many works. Over time, her own body is replaced with representations of the female form created from natural materials, which become ever more abstracted.

In the 1970s, Ana Mendieta travelled to Mexico almost every summer, where she created many seminal works. In the films from 1974, Creek, Silueta del Laberinto (Laberinth Blood Imprint), and Burial Pyramid, the artist’s interest in merging the body with nature, her earth-body aesthetic, is clearly established. Traces of the female body in the form of silhouettes in the landscape become an integral part of her visual language. This imagery reflects the search for identity in an adopted homeland and expresses doubts about identity as being clearly definable.

For Esculturas Rupestres (Rupestrian Sculptures), 1981, Ana Mendieta returned to Cuba and carved figures into the limestone walls of historic caves in Jaruco, Havana, creating a link between her sculptures and the mythic past. In Óchun, 1981, named after a Santería goddess, Ana Mendieta sculpted an abstracted female form on the shores of Key Biscayne, an island in Florida that lies between mainland United States and Cuba. The water that washes through the figure flows between the coasts of both islands. The last of her 104 films, this work is an allegory of exile and return.

Ana Mendieta belongs to a time of historic multi-disciplinary shifts in art practice. Under-recognized during her lifetime, in her short period of creative production, Ana Mendieta made an extraordinary body of work, which has only recently received due recognition. Ana Mendieta's examination of the historic past through the transience of the present is revealed in her Super 8 films, which create new understandings of performance, sculpture, film and photography. The most comprehensive presentation of her film works to date, accompanied by three suites of photographs, this exhibition is the culmination of a three-year joint research project by the Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, Galerie Lelong & Co., and the University of Minnesota; the artist's entire body of moving image work, created between 1971 and 1981, was transferred to high definition digital media and collected into a filmography.

The exhibition originated at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery at the University of Minnesota and is curated by Lynn Lukkas and Howard Oransky. The exhibition is made possible in part by the Office of the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota, the National Endowment for the Arts, a gift of Agnes Gund, the Harlan Boss Foundation for the Arts, Kate and Stuart Nielsen, Syma Cheris Cohn, Metropolitan Picture Framing, the Epson Corporation, and the Tierney Brothers Corporation. The Berlin presentation has been made possible by the Capital Culture Funds.

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