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Dames Done Wrong: Where is Ana?

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Welcome to Dames Done Wrong, where we handle misogyny, sexism and everyday douchebaggery throughout the ages. Most artists in museums might be male, but ladies rocked that paintbrush (or camera/chisel/etc.) JUST as hard. Whether the woman in question was murdered or simply overshadowed, whether her artwork got banned from the museum or maybe even stolen by the unfairer sex…you’ll read all the juicy details here.

This week’s Dame Done Wrong is Ana Mendieta. This Cuban lady was mostly famous for  her “earth-body” artworks, a combination of land-art, body-art and performance-art. That and for gloriously rocking a beard. Unfortunately, she’s also well known for the tragic way she died. It took the art world about 30 years to give her work the attention it deserved; that might or might not have something to do with the fact that her alleged killer is still one of the art world’s biggest superstars? Just guessing.

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Ana was born in Cuba in 1948, but her dad sent Ana and her sister Raquelin to the US in 1961 to flee Castro’s regime. Raquelin cried all the way to the US, but Ana was actually pretty excited. She had this image in her head of teenagers in flashy sport cars, sunny beaches and pool parties, you know, like in the movies. To be honest I also hoped living in California would be like living in Clueless, but nope, nothing like that… Okay, apart from all the Silicon Valley bro’s in way too flashy sports cars.

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Ana and Raquelin ended up in a refugee camp before relocating to Iowa. Not as glamorous as Ana had imagined, but luckily there was art. Teachers would tell Ana she didn’t have any talent, but she couldn’t care less. I mean, why would you? If you love to paint just do it right? In college, both girls faced a lot of discrimination by misogynist pricks. Usually all attention would go to male students, Raquelin’s teacher told her “to go home and wash dishes.” Dude, seriously? Obviously Ana rebelled, heavily.

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Much of Ana’s work focused on violence against women, and blood, lots of blood.

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Untitled (1973)       

After moving to NYC, Ana joined Artists In Residence, Inc. (A.I.R. Gallery). Believe it or not, but this was the first gallery in the US dedicated specifically to women artists. At this gallery, she met her future partner Carl Andre.

Carl and Ana were quite a couple, but not in a good way. Some may call it “passionate” but most would just call it abusive. The two were notorious for their public fights, usually triggered by drinking one too many. Eight months after the two got married, Ana jumped out the window of their 34th-floor Greenwich Village apartment. Or at least that’s what Carl claims… He called 911 and told them “We had a quarrel about the fact that I was more, eh, exposed to the public than she was. And she went to the bedroom, and I went after her, and she went out the window.” Later on, Carl told the police a whole different story, he and Ana were watching TV and she went to bed alone. Some time later he went to bed and saw that the window was open…  Hmm. With Ana being the emotional and impulsive type, this might have been a possibility, but friends and family are not so sure about that. Actually apart from being married to Carl, her future looked really bright! Her “star was rising,” her artworks were getting more and more attention and she just got a Guggenheim Fellowship.

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But, there were no eyewitnesses, just a doorman who heard Ana scream “No No No!” and then seconds later a loud thud when she landed on the roof of the Delion delicatessen downstairs.

You know, the thing is, Ana was very afraid of heights. So much, her friend Carolee Schneeman had to help her change her lightbulbs. Oh and did I tell you Ana was less than 5 feet tall? So falling out of their high window by accident was basically impossible. Also, Carl had fresh scratches on his face when the police arrived, hmm… 

All of this, plus the fact that Ana was planning to file for divorce, I don’t blame Ana’s friends for not believing Carl’s story (or rather storIES). But the judge did. In the days following Ana’s death, the art world rallied for Carl. Artists like Frank Stella and some rich art collectors offered hundreds of thousands of dollars for his bail. Eventually, Carl was acquitted of murdering his wife and the art world went on its way.

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Luckily, people rediscovered Ana’s work many years later and it gained more of its well deserved attention. But, we’re still not quite there yet. Even Tate Modern failed to include Ana in the new hanging of their collection. I mean they have five really awesome works, so that couldn’t have been the problem. You know who was included? That’s right, Carl. The museum prided itself on being inclusive and diverse, but activist groups WHEREISANAMENDIETA and Sisters Uncut disagreed.

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Protesters crossing Millennium Bridge en route to Tate Modern (photo by Charlotte Bell)

What really went on in that 34th-floor Greenwich Village bedroom? Do you think we will ever learn the truth about Ana’s death?

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#WhatWouldHoratioDo?


By: Silke van de Grift

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Silke van de Grift

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