Finding Ana

Writer Christine Redfern and illustrator Caro Caron illuminate a feminist artist’s forgotten life with their book launch and artist talk this Wednesday.

Redfern and Caron’s book highlights Mendieta’s importance in the art world.
Redfern and Caron’s book highlights Mendieta’s importance in the art world.

"My goal with this book is to make some people aware of Ana Mendieta and her work," says author Redfern. "You never know how it could inspire someone, affect someone, encourage someone. It's hard to measure the effect of this sort of seepage of knowledge. Sometimes a small leak can spread a long way."

Born in Havana, Mendieta left to escape Fidel Castro's regime at 14, and was placed in several foster homes via Operation Peter Pan in Iowa. Graduating from University of Iowa with a BA, an MA in painting and an MFA in multimedia and video art, Mendieta created work throughout Cuba, Mexico, Italy and the United States.

Inherently feminist, Mendieta's work revolved around the body and nature, her autobiographical works between feminism and violence, life and death, place and belonging. Mendieta's most famous works Silueta Series, created between 1973 and 1980, portrays the artist nude, using her body as canvas and medium to create silhouettes in grass, blood, sand, dirt and fire.

Exploring her connection with the earth, an act the artist coined "earth-body," Mendieta blurred boundaries of performance, film and photography. She won the Rome Prize from the American Academy in 1983. Two years later, she fell from the 34th floor of her apartment in Greenwich Village. Husband and sculptor Carl Andre, tried and acquitted of murder, silenced her legacy.

Hired to oversee their art publications at Galerie La Centrale Powering, Redfern came across Mendieta's work in a planning meeting with a group of women in 2004.

"I joked with the programming coordinator Aneessa Hashmi and administrator Susanne St-Denis after they hired me, by saying, 'you do know I hate art publications?' I was joking, but it is also true. I find so many art publications are verbose gobbledegook."

While discussing who to cover, artist Pascale Malaterre suggested Mendieta.

"You know, the one who did the piece where she was kissing the skeleton?" This roused discussion about Mendieta.

"To tell the truth, that was the first time I had ever heard her name or about her work or about how she died," says Redfern. "I had two university degrees at that point, had been pursuing my path as an artist for around 15 years and had been writing about visual arts for four. Her name never came up before that meeting. She wasn't an artist being talked about at all."

In Who Is Ana Mendieta?'s introduction, writer, activist, curator Lucy Lippard writes "Ana's death is one of millions, despite four decades of feminist struggle, which remain underestimated---social crimes that have to be fully confronted."

Similar to Art Spieglman's Maus: A Survivor's Tale and Alison Bechdel's Fun Home: a Tragicomic, the visual directness of the graphic novel form confronts violence and loss head on.

"You could divide it up and say the text is mine and the drawings are Caro's, but over the years we worked so long on this and there was so much back and forth that I influenced the drawings and Caro influenced the text," says Redfern. "Instead of drawing a line down the middle and trying to separate what each of us did, we decided that the most truthful way to credit the book was to say Who Is Ana Mendieta? is by Christine Redfern and Caro Caron."

Christine Redfern and Caro Caron's artist talk and *Who Is Ana Mendieta?* book launch Wednesday, September 21 at the Dalhousie Art Gallery, 6101 University Avenue (co-hosted by Centre for Art Tapes) 7pm

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