Yesterday at 13.30, 18th September 2016, a group of activists female, male and non-binary walked through the main gate of the Hamburger Bahnhof a cacophony of cellos, wails and bells played from their mobile phones. Their arms and wrists doused in red paint emblematic of Ana Mendieta work and discourse they held banners that silently screamed “Where is Ana Mendieta” “Ana Mendieta ermordet” and “Stop glorifying violent men”. A few activists worked through the visitors to the museum stamping their wrists (not too dissimilar to a club entry line) with the slogan “Where is Ana Mendieta” a simple yet effective way to question the idea of inclusion and entry into the institution.
At the head of the procession six figures carried a white sheet with the trace of a body printed on it – images of the funeral procession that never happened in the institution was blindingly moving to the crowd that gathered. The protesters created a chain around the main entrance garden bed, silently they held hands red-to-red, eyes teared – cold and reflective. Organisers of the action; read statements and poems reflecting on her life and other women lost at the hands of violent men. Information sheets were handed out in English, German, Spanish and Turkish explaining the life and work of Ana Mendieta and why still today people are asking the question “Where is Ana Mendieta”. Where is key to understanding the discourse of this action – the group are not asking singularly for a retrospective of her work but asking the question of Where is she? The continued erasure of her name and the acclaim offered to Andre pointedly shows their alliance to prestigious violent men, over women who suffer abuse from their hands, women of colour and refugees.
Since the alleged murder of Ana Mendieta, feminist activists have been protesting against the exhibition of Carl Andre’s work through direct actions and ‘cry-ins’, however institutions have acted as if her death was nothing but a bad day’s press for Andre.
The context of her death is essential in understanding the reason behind the continuing discourse and protests: Ana Mendieta was a woman of colour and a refugee. Evidence following her death in 1985 pointed towards domestic violence: their apartment was a mess and Andre had scratch marks over his nose and arms when the police arrived shortly after the event. The doorman testified in court that at 5.30am he heard a woman screaming ‘No’ several times before hearing a thud, her body hitting the roof of the delicatessen below. This testimony was effectively ignored in the court case which followed, where Mendieta’s art was used as proof that she was suicidal- a tragic misuse of her conceptual body to favour the white privileged systems of patriarchy. It is impossible to ignore the favour given to Carl Andre- by the legal system and supposedly progressive art world alike.
The demonstration at Hamburger Bahnhof is a follow-up to the London protest at the opening of The Tate Project on June 16, 2016. In the wake of the Tate’s new branding, “Art changes. We change.”, London-based collective WHEREISANAMENDIETA protested against Carl Andre’s inclusion in the curation, while Ana Mendieta, whose work is also in the collection, was excluded.
Bianca Clifford: „I came because every women I know has been touched by domestic violence, including myself, and I always resonated with Ana’s story and I wanted to pay my respects and celebrate Ana. Her work was just, it connected to everything. She was just so honest and it’s just really upsetting.“
Jessica Taylor: „I cannot sit passively by the glorification of domestic violence and abuse, and more importantly the erasure of domestic violence and abuse. As someone who has witnessed domestic violence first hand, I know that it is very common to erase women’s stories and experiences, and in this situation art institutions‘ decisions to not only erase the history of this woman’s story but also to glorify the abuser is vile. [On Ana’s work] Basically her willingness to be bare, her willingness to be open, that’s something that’s very condemned in our society and it’s something that I struggle with a lot, to be honest and open, especially about those feelings that are labelled dark feelings, depression, suicide, these things that are not discussed amongst women of colour, people of colour, and that are labelled as weak. That’s something that I really identify with in her work.
Nine Yamamoto: „I’ve been active in the art world for a long time, I also studied a lot of art, and I have come to realise that what is being presented in the museums and what is being taught at universities is only a very partial truth, and often lies. I’ve become aware of all of the gaps, absences, erasures, and re-writings and revisionism very present at the core of institutions and academia, institutions of knowledge. And I’m sick of being lied to. I’m sick of violent men being glorified in museums, institutions. Violent men who have been violent on an interpersonal level, like Carl Andre, who killed Ana Mendieta, and no body, very few people know about it, and it’s not mentioned in this exhibition at all. These things, and also violent men, politically, who’ve been a very active part of violent colonisation. All of these things go together, and I think it’s important to realise the complicity of museums and institutions of knowledge in perpetuating this kind of violence by virtue of not mentioning it and erasing people. [On Ana’s work] Her work is very moving because it comes from a place that is almost the opposite of all of those strong, cerebral masculine engineering values that are so perfectly conveyed in Carl Andre’s work. Her work is very ephemeral, very much influenced by her way of being in the world as a women, as somebody who had been displaced, I think it’s incredibly powerful work. And I feel robbed of not being able to see more of her work, because she was murdered so young. And I really wish she was still around, I wish she was still alive. I wish she had a big retrospective.“
Sonja Hornung: „I think it is very important as an artist regardless of your gender identification to stand up for gender equality inside and outside institutions in the art world. Because it’s a representative space, it’s a space where humanity is represented. So it doesn’t make sense for that moment of representation to be claimed only by white men. My feelings about the Hamburger Bahnhof are mixed anyway, because of its link to the Christian Flick collection, he was the son of a Nazi who employed predominantly women on a forced labour basis to push his industry forward during the Nazi period, and then he never paid reparations for that. Instead he invested that money into a private collection which was then exhibited here. So that in and of itself is a good reason to protest in front of this institution. And above and beyond that the fact that the Carl Andre exhibition doesn’t really pay any reference to Ana Mendieta, her role in his life, and his act of violence against her is kind of flabbergasting. Just ridiculous actually.“
WHEREISANAMENDIETA is based in London initiated as an archiving project, which is carried out by women, trans people, people of colour and non-binary people – which has begun as a retaliation against this erasure of women, non binary and people of colour from institution archives. They intend to create a platform where people can safely create politicised work without risking institutional backlash or being blacklisted for political involvement.
The Berlin-based satellite group that organised the demonstration today are moving towards creating a new-media toolkit for other international groups to utilize globally in further demonstrations. This will work alongside the London based zine, which includes the poetry and articles by female, non binary and POC writers from around the globe.
All images courtesy of Coral Garvey