MARTHA THOMASES: Who is Ana Mendieta?
The world of fine arts is even more male-dominated than the world of popular arts. Although both trivialize the work of women, there are more respected women working in creative departments of film, television, even comics than there are in the better galleries and museums.
As if to prove the point, there is a new graphic novel from the Feminist Press, Who Is Ana Mendieta? Ana Mendieta was a Cuban-born artist best known for her earthworks, which combined her cultural heritage, her body, and specific sites. And, to the broader public, she is best known for her marriage to artist Carl Andre and her death under questionable circumstances.
This book is part of Blind Spot, a series of graphic novels from Feminist Press, which, according to their press release, “reconstruct these cultural biographies to tell a different story.”
Who Is Ana Mendiata? uses the graphic novel medium to full effect. The perspective jumps around from the persona – Ana’s life and relationships – to the professional – the upward trajectory of her career, and her developing themes as an artist – to the political – the art world environment and its attitude towards women. The word balloon placement guides the eye deftly, so that none of this is the least bit confusing. The slightly cartoony art style makes it easy to accept the contradictory opinions of the different characters, even as it encourages a healthy skepticism in the reader.
It makes me a little bit nostalgic to see the debates of the late 1970s to mid-1980s about the importance of women’s contribution to the arts. Critics like Lucy Lippard (who wrote the introduction to this book), artists like Barbara Kruger and Judy Chicago (just a small sample, read the book for more), and the Guerrilla Girls collective, made it an exciting time. Anger makes good graphics.
The same anger also made great music.
It’s interesting that now, more than 25 years later, we still have these arguments. It’s now accepted that women work “outside the home,” as we used to say. And we accept that women can be artists and managers and executives and airline pilots and ditch diggers.
Women are still defined primarily as creatures who breed other humans. Our professional accomplishments are limited by our fertility, and the law considers us little more than incubators. Men can be fathers and successful, but women are still expected to choose one or the other area in which to excel.
Life is a good thing, and I’m in favor of continuing the human species. However, I think we limit ourselves when we concentrate on women’s wombs at the expense of their brains. Rosalyn Yalow‘s commitment to life was profound. If she couldn’t type, those people – and her genius – would have been lost to the rest of us.
Whether or not Ana Mendieta created work that appeals to your aesthetic, you owe it to yourself to check out this book … and her art.
SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman!