So We Don’t Forget ANA

Erena Hernández
April 1992

From: Hernández, Erena. “Para no olvidar a Ana,” Mujeres, año 31, no. 2, abril, La Habana, Cuba, 1992. (illust.) pp. 66 – 67.

So We Don’t Forget ANA

By Erena Hernandez

If for some people contemporary art is difficult to understand, perhaps because they are unaware of the evolution it has suffered to become what it is today, because they lack due information or, even more simply, because they are not interested in it, it is more difficult yet, even for those versed in the topic, to acquaint themselves with ephemeral art. That is, to understand why an artists makes works that will disappear in a period of time more or less long and will not transcend their death. A testimony of them will remain in photographs or some film or video.

This is the case of Ana Mendieta, a Cuban born in 1948 whose parents took her to the United States when she was 13 years of age. There she developed, learned about traumas and died tragically in 1985.

If it is difficult for some to understand why a creator like Ana Mendieta, for example, made ephemeral art, with little or none commercial chances, it would be even more difficult to see why another Cuban, Tania Bruguera, for her graduation thesis in the Higher Art Institute, made an exhibition as if she were Ana Mendieta, or as if Ana herself would have been exhibiting.

For her part, Tania exhibited photocopies – which she had a photographer make – of the documentation Ana had made on two ephemeral works. That is, in January she exhibited at the Gallery of the Center for the Development of Visual Arts photocopies of pictures Ana took of two pieces of hers. In one, Ana is naked, entirely smeared by mud, leaning on a silk-cotton tree; in the other, a silhouette of hers made with powder is burning.

There are three other pieces “created (?)” by Tania: three more photocopies of pictures taken by Mendieta to three cave sculptures she made in Escaleras de Jaruco during one of her visits to Havana as an adult. Tania also included in her sample original pictures (given by Ana to Cuban specialist Jose Veigas) which were the documentation for another ephemeral work, documentation that Ana sent in 1982 to the Cuban Photography Award held in Havana.

Notice that if Ana had been alive and organized an exhibition at the Center for the Development of Visual Arts, it she would have wanted to show her ephemeral works as Tania did, she would also have had to show pictures or photocopies. And this is where Tania was motivated by Ana’s artistic personality: that Mendieta was as interested in the work itself as she was in the previous process of obtaining it, in the creative act and all it entailed in dedication. What does it matter what happens later with the work? What interested the creator, the artist, was the unique and unrepeatable moment in which she tried to achieve visual metaphors on some given topics she was interested in, with the emotions she was feeling in those moments in which, from her mind and heart, a set of ideas was sprouting that she gave expression to in an object, just like a ballerina or a violinist feel, in the ephemeral moment of their performance, a host of passions – stemming from their experiences and individual nature – which they turn out when dancing or playing an instrument, and will not be just the same they will feel in other occasions in which they dance or play (they will be warmer or colder, depending on their mood at the moment).

What interested Ana the most was to find a communion with nature, with the cosmos, and that is why she was making land art and body art. In Tania’s case… what is Tania interested in? She is interested in making art based on subjects like History or Archeology (a usual resource in post modernistic poetry). As an archeologist who finds valuable pre-Columbian ceramics, Tania operates with Ana’s works, perhaps about to disappear, and rescues them from oblivion, placing them before the eyes of present spectators so they bear it in mind, and she documents her “findings” as a historian would with a historical passage. According to critic Gerardo Mosquera, more than an act of creation, Tania’s is an artistic gesture.

Apart from the pictures and photocopies on the walls, Tania remade clay, cement and sand sculptures… which Ana had already made abroad and placed on the floor of the gallery. She also made two works by herself following Ana Mendieta’s style and gave the credit to them both. The rest of the works was in the catalogue and the identification cards just with Ana’s name, as made by her, not with the intention by Tania of appropriating them, something very usual in postmodernist poetics (appropriation and quotes…).
Under this same concept of parity (under equal conditions) of the work vis-à-vis the creative act, Tania showed a file with her projects: film and TV scripts, poems, and so on still not assembled in a work, that is, in films, TV series or books.

To make this intelligent proposal that was her thesis more explicit, let us refer to her words in the catalogue: “Each of my artistic conclusions is the consequence of existential positions. At the same time, art models new attitudes of my own life. What I show now is an answer to the question on the functionality of art, which is not a matter of “raising” or “lowering” it for consumption, but turning it into a means of reflection and meaning. To exhibit Ana’s work, valid and important enough for art in Cuba, is giving it the place that it should have among us. Ana, when becoming part of nature, is also looking for herself in life through art. I agree with her in giving the process of creation an equal relevance to that given to the finished work.” For Tania, as for Ana, the attitude towards the work and the artistic act is close to devotion. They see both things like a high responsibility and a means for research; especially, art is for both of them “the form in which the links joining them to the Universe are reestablished.” An exhibition – according to Tania – in which “work” and “idea” transcend the mere fact of a museological sample, whether historical or documentary, to become the exhibition of a point of view.