Tracing Ana Mendieta

ANA MENDIETA_Untitled Body Tracks

Untitled (Body Tracks) 1974 Lifetime colour photograph 25.4 x 20.3 cm Collection Igor Maya Da Costa
© The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection
Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York and Paris and Alison Jacques Gallery, London

Browsing the internet to find exhibitions to feed my artistic interest, I took a tiny leap of excitement when I found Ana Mendieta: Traces being held this autumn at the Hayward Gallery. I instantly knew this was an exhibition that I simply could not miss.

Situated on London’s Southbank, the impressive catalogue of work by a female artist, whose untimely death at 38 has overshadowed her impressive artistic contribution, is displayed at the Hayward Gallery in the UKs first retrospective of her work.

The Cuban born Ana Mendieta, an important feminist artist of the 1970s and 1980s, left traces of her own body and connected back to nature with the use of natural elements in her work such as trees, flowers, sand and even ox blood as in the Body Tracks series. Featured in Room 2, these photographic works serve to raise awareness of violence against women. Mendieta would cover her hands and arms in blood (or blood coloured paint) and place them on a wall high above her head; she would then drag her hands and arms down to the floor leaving the tracks of her movement behind which become records of Mendieta’s movement from an upright to a kneeling position. The exhibition displays the extent of a creative individual with its vast collection of Mendieta’s photographs and short films as well as numerous sculptures and slides.

The highlight of the Hayward’s retrospective for me was housed in Room 4 which recreates Medieta’s major solo exhibition Siluetas first shown during the 1970s. Originally the whole all of Mendieta’s photographs were displayed unframed and the Hayward have chosen to feature three of the Silueta photos in this way.

Untitled (Silueta Series) - 16066

Silueta Series 1977 Colour photograph mounted on board, lifetime print 33.7 x 50.8cm
Collection Ignacio C. Mendieta
© The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection
Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York and Paris and Alison Jacques Gallery, London

Mendieta embarked upon the Siluetas between 1973 and 1981, a series of photographic works that were largely carried out in Iowa and Mexico. Some of the works from the series involved Mendieta using her body to make an impression in the ground and then proceed to add objects such as flowers and berries to the impression (or silhouette) that her body had made. Sometimes she would set the impression on fire and would then record the effects on her silhouette over a period of time through a sequence of photographs or stills from video footage. Her Silueta from 1976 is such an example of this practice. In this work Mendieta made an impression of her body on a Mexican beach at Salina Cruz. She then filled the silhouette of her body with red flowers and used colour photographs to record the effects of the elements on the flower-filled silhouette which were gradually washed away by the tide.

Recording the gradual process of the disappearance of her silhouettes demonstrates the transience of the female body. She presents it as an aspect of the natural world and part of an organic process that is subject to decay and will eventually disappear altogether.

For me the Siluetas have a poignant dimension to them and make me wonder about the fragility of life and the impressions that we leave behind when we are no longer here. At first the memory is strong but it fades over time until eventually nothing remains and is forgotten.

Also featured at the end of the exhibition are a collection of Mendieta’s own personal notebooks, letters and diaries. These to me were a particularly poignant and thought-provoking part of the exhibition as these personal artefacts have indeed become the traces of a life extinguished.

Ana Mendieta: Traces provides a fascinating insight into the brilliant artistic mind and creativity of an artist who has traditionally been undervalued. Not to be missed Traces is now on at the Hayward Gallery at the Southbank Centre until 15th December 2013