Three decades after Ana Mendieta’s death, Connecting to the Earth brings the Cuban artist’s work to Brisbane, exploring what close communion with nature could look like in contemporary Australia. Curator Susan Best has partnered it with Dale Harding’s exhibition Current Iterations: “Many Indigenous artists are revitalising longstanding site-specific traditions, like petroglyphs and rock painting. Alongside Dale’s work, you see Mendieta quite differently.”
This comparison is palpable in Rupestrian Sculptures, 1981: in the rocky caves of Escaleras de Jaruco (Havana, Cuba), Mendieta carved and documented enigmatic, rudimentary pictographs. She was thinking through earlier, unindustrialised living: reaping and marking the land on a humble, bodily scale, something totally unlike the hugeness of today’s resource extraction and mega-structures.
The children of a politically prominent family in Havana, Mendieta and her sister were expatriated for 18 years, living as refugees in the US. “She wouldn’t have desired connection to the earth in such a fundamental way without exile,” explains Best. “Most people take a link to place for granted, and she couldn’t.”
For the Silueta Series, 1973-1980, Mendieta imprinted her silhouette onto non-urban landscapes. Some are made of daisies or swirling seafoam, others are primal and fierce, in mud, fire and ice. Anonymous and simply posed, the Siluetas propose a worldview in which women are emanating from nature, not imposed onto it. They operate outside Western convention; the landscapes aren’t “picturesque or pristine”, and their scale is intimate. “There’s no vista here,” says Best. “It’s about a point of contact with nature.”
A film program curated by John Edmond will explore Mendieta’s legacy as a rallying point for female artists, as well as the outrage surrounding her death. Connecting to the Earth revisits the tenderness and immediacy with which Mendieta proposed we inhabit the world. “Her approach was modest,” says Best. “The interventions were brief and left no permanent scarring. It was a gentle embrace of the earth.”