Who Is Ana Mendieta?
Who Is Ana Mendieta? by Christine Redfern & Caro Caron (Feminist Press, 2011)
(Feminist Press, 2011) by Christine Redfern and Caro Caron is a jarring graphic comic book that displays and reveals the life of the artist, as well as the overview of the art world at the time of Mendieta’s career and after her death. Divided into two sections, the comic portion of the book first emphasizes Mendieta’s performance and process artwork, and the authors of the comic display the magnitude of her creations and their influence on the future of art. Certainly, Mendieta created performance pieces that surpassed the shock and awe of her contemporaries and showed the manipulation of mainstream media’s handling of rape cases, and other cases involving abuse of women and girls. The book shows Mendieta’s push to comment on the exploitation of violence committed against women and girls. Mendieta shows that even after being victimized, a woman isn’t safe. The media and others throw her life out for display; reveal the most private details of her life, as well as the violence that was committed against her. Mendieta’s life and death become the real-life example of her artistic statement, and Redfern and Caron make that message the central theme of Who Is Ana Mendieta?
They ask the reader to question her death: was Carl Andre responsible for her fall (and death) from their NY apartment; what was he hiding about those final moments with Ana; and did she suspect that he would be violent? Redfern and Caron aren’t afraid of questions.
To take Mendieta’s visual art at face value is to see and feel both the unity of humanity with the earth as well as the pain of disjuncture from the earth, our basic social separation and disconnect. Redfern and Caron show that they are aware that some critics interpret Mendieta’s art as exclusively related to her biography, her displacement from Cuba, as well as the various spiritual practices intermingling in the Caribbean. In the book, Mendieta’s union with Mother Earth shines, as does her convictions about media and violence against women. In all of her artwork, the viewer is confronted with that which is left over…the remnants and effects. Mendieta’s art more powerfully goes to the essence of an instant of death and of life—the breath left only by a faint trace or silhouette of life—that which is often overlooked by others. Her “Siluete” series is just one example.
“My purpose and interest is rooted in nature’s symbolic meaning, reflecting a Paleolithic, not an industrial spirit.” —Ana Mendieta, project proposal for Bard College, 1984
Caron’s black and white drawings in the comic are intimate, bold works of art, and they allow the reader to step into the art scene prior to Mendieta’s success, and then take the reader into the life of Ana Mendieta. We see the oppression and exclusion that motivated her, the violence against women that provoked her, her vulnerable passion for the earth and nature that healed her, and her own insecurities that propelled unhealthy cycles within her life. But not only do we see the strengths and weaknesses of Ana in the graphic comic, we also see the vulnerabilities and momentum of the women’s movement in the arts at the time.
In the second portion of the book, Redfern and Caron have reformatted texts and quotes into a newspaper titled “Blind Spot.” Redfern writes in a Note to Readers: “The title ‘Blind Spot’ was chosen to reflect that when the past is spoken of, more often than not, many events and accomplishments involving women become hidden in our collective memory, creating a blind spot. But that doesn’t make them disappear—they’re still there, to be exposed or rediscovered at any time.” The book offers a gift on every page: artwork, police reports, facts, personalities, quotations, poetry, reviews, clips and pieces dedicated to Mendieta, a comic book that reveals Ana’s pragmatism in creating art, but it’s also a book rife with disappointment in the fine art world. Redfern and Caron allow readers to discover and learn about a bold and innovative artist in an empowering comic that continues to probe for answers about Mendieta’s death.