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Echoes: An exhibition of works by Ana Mendieta with a site-specific installation by Ratna Gupta

Address: What About Art? 7 Baitush Apts, 1st floor, 29th Road, near Sigdi Restaurant, Bandra West, Bombay: 400 050
Preview: Saturday, March 1, 7-9.30 pm
Dates: March 3-April 5, 2014 (Closed on Sundays and public holidays)
Timings: 11.30-6 pm


Despite the pivotal role Ana Mendieta (1948 – 1985) has played in the recent histories of art, she has for long been under-represented. The Cuban-American artist’s multidisciplinary art—combining body art, land art, performance, photography, sculpture and film—is close to the bone, both literally and metaphorically. Although Ana resisted easy categorisations such as feminist art, it is hard not to examine the relative invisibility of her narrative from the broader discourse—a trend that is being gradually reversed—from a feminist position.

In the foreword to Ana Mendieta: Traces, presented at the Hayward Gallery last year, the artist is rightly identified as a ‘double-minority in North America’s largely white, male art world of the 1970s and 1980s’.

Born in Cuba, the artist was forced to immigrate to the United States as a child due to the political situation. It was in New York that she died under mysterious circumstances when she fell from the window of her 34th floor apartment she was sharing with her husband, the minimalist sculptor Carl Andre. Her being under-acknowledged was exacerbated by her untimely death at the age of 36.

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The exhibition is predicated on four videos; documentations of Ana’s earth-body interventions, these works and the artist’s oeuvre at large are of a distinctly human scale. Ana did not compete with the scale of nature, as land artists are often wont to doing, but instead allowed herself to be subsumed in nature.

Of the four works, two—Alma silueta en fuego (Silueta de cenizas), 1975, and Anima, Silueta de Cohetes (Firework Piece), Oaxaca, México, 1976—belong to the famous Silueta Series, 1973–1980. With artist’s silhouette as its recurring motif, the tableaux invoke the past, i.e. Paganism and the rituals of Mexico, in the hope of shrinking the gap between body and earth.

Burial Pyramid, Yagul, México, 1974 and Untitled (Blood and Feathers #2), 1974, the other two tableaux in the exhibition, are also suggestive of Ana’s high investment in what she termed “earth-body” works.

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Ratna Gupta too is interested in undermining the earth-body binary. She reflects on this spurious division by embedding herself in the contemporary situation. From here the artist speculates on the ways in which this rift has been further fuelled by our culture of consumption.

Although the conversation around our ecosystem has gone mainstream, the divide continues to deepen on account of millennia of inertia, which gets relentlessly perpetuated by our privileging of the anthropocentric paradigm. A perfectly Kafka-esque instance of this would have to be the time scientists inadvertently killed an ocean quahog, a type of deep-sea clam, in their attempt to read its age by studying the lines on its shell.

There is, however, a rich legacy critiquing this binary even outside the ritualised practices invoked by Ana. From physicist Jagdish Chandra Bose to philosopher Félix Guattari, key figures across disciplines have carried out similar critiques, albeit in different registers.

Ratna has engaged with some of these anxieties by making a sporadic archive of trees in the neighbourhood of Bandra, Bombay, where she grew up; the process entails making tapestry like moulds of tree barks. Over these past few years—Ratna embarked on the project in 2010—some of the archived trees have been felled and some continue to stay. For her first project following motherhood, Ratna not only renews inquiries but also reconfigures her earlier work.

Previously discarded sculptural moulds and odd ends of processes, in which the artist made casts of her body in an attempt to take claustrophobia head-on, are placed in close proximity of the tapestries.

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Assembled in the living room of a Bombay apartment—which doubles up as a project space—the dense mise-en-scène, consisting often of literally overlapping works, subverts the dominant minimal and seemingly hermetic aesthetic of exhibition spaces and in doing so highlights a messy, organic and non-linear process.

The site-specific installation also recalls the works of German-American artist Hans Breder, Mendieta’s former professor, lover and frequent collaborator. In 1968, Breder founded the Intermedia program at University of Iowa and Mendieta joined the same in 1970. Both Breder and Mendieta’s interest in bodily transformations, among other things, led to a bunch of collaborations.

Ratna’s installation has a strong formal connect with Breder’s photographic work wherein he manipulated the body by using large polished steel mirrors. Mendieta even served as a model for one such series, titled La Ventosa, 1973. In these photographs, a naked Mendieta can be seen lying on a beach in Oaxaca, Mexico—also the site for several Mendieta projects—and holding a large mirror such that she appears headless and her lower body variously fragmented.

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From Hans and Ana to Ratna; the project is, in part, an exploration of cultural transference. While oftentimes-impassable border controls—such as gender, nationality and race—stagger the processes of cultural transference, current day tools, such as the Internet, can be efficient at redressal. Consequently, as a postscript to the above-stated videos, on loan from Daros Latinamerica, Echoes also includes a half hour sequence of Ana’s videos as found in the archives of UbuWeb.

– Gitanjali Dang


About the artist: Ratna Gupta received her BA in Book Arts and Crafts, 2005, from the London College of Printing, The London Institute, London. She has also studied graphic design, 2001, at Weighan and Leigh College and done a BA, 2000, at St Xaviers College, both in Bombay. Ratna has shown her works at two solo projects at Gallery Beyond, Bombay, and participated in several group shows. She unfortunately lives and works out of Bombay.


Supported by: Daros Latinamerica & What About Art?


Captions/ Details: Clockwise from featured image
I) Ana Mendieta, Anima, Silueta de Cohetes (Firework Piece), Oaxaca, México, 1976, Daros Latinamerica Collection, Zürich
II-VIII) Installation view. Credit: Shivani Gupta