Monday, March 16, 2015
Crying for Ana Mendieta at the Carl Andre Retrospective
I didn’t think I would be able to cry on command. When my good friend, the poet and performance artist Jennifer Tamayo, invited me to an event called “CRYING; A PROTEST” at Dia: Beacon’s Carl Andre retrospective in honor of Ana Mendieta, I knew it was important for me to attend, but I had no idea how I would make myself cry. Organized in conjunction with We Wish Ana Mendieta Was Still Alive, a public action by No Wave Performance Task Force — which also staged a protest of the Andre show outside Dia’s Chelsea offices last year — the event was billed as: “TEARS of JOY/ TEARS of TERROR/ TEARS for ANA MENDIETA. come celebrate the last day of Carl Andre’s DIA retrospective at a public cry-in/silueta party. bring your own tears.”
This past Saturday, we arrived at the Beacon train station parking lot to organize, then headed over to the museum at around 3pm. There were about 15 of us, all feminist poets and artists and activists. We entered the museum in groups of two to appear less conspicuous, since we had heard the museum was expecting us. The plan was to walk around the Carl Andre exhibit for about 20 minutes, crying and/or emoting individually, then convene in the show’s main room for a “crying climax” of loud wails.
As I walked around the show, my tears came more quickly than I expected. My anxiety about the day came to a head as I looked around at Carl Andre’s sparse, linear art — metal, wood, and other industrial materials arranged in crisp geometric rows and shapes. They felt to me in that moment like elegant exercises in cool logic, a stark contrast to Mendieta’s violent death, and to the messy tears we cried in her honor.
Members of our group had begun sitting near individual works, staring at them with tears streaming down their cheeks, or just simply taking up space while emoting unapologetically. I looked at an installation of metal squares placed in patterns and shapes along the floor. I thought about how women’s emotions are policed in our culture. How Mendieta’s powerful artwork — some of which features imagery challenging gendered hierarchies and violence against women — was used in court by Andre’s lawyer to suggest she committed suicide. How prominent male artists of the time came to Andre’s defense. How to this day we’re all too eager to defend male artists who are abusers and to point fingers at women who are abused. I thought about women artists like Yoko Ono and Courtney Love, who are often defined by their great artist husbands’ lives, and sometimes even blamed for their deaths; how their own powerful work is frequently eclipsed. I thought of how Mendieta’s work has been largely overshadowed by her death, yet Andre’s retrospective is not touched by it; I searched the museum booklet for Mendieta’s name and found it nowhere. I cried into my hands, wiping my eyes sloppily on my giant scarf as nearby museum guards eyed me suspiciously, speaking quietly into walkie talkies.
I walked into the exhibit’s main room at 3:15 to end the performance with loud group crying. The space filled with a cacophony of sobs and wails and sniffing snot and choking back tears and gasping for air. It was stunning, and I started crying more intensely immediately, glancing from the artwork to the museum booklet and back again. Other museum attendees were stopped in all corners of the room, staring at us crying women and talking quietly to one another. Several performer/protesters collapsed on the floor, sobbing in front of individual installations like they were at a loved one’s grave. Many of these women are my best friends; they make up my community of feminist poets and artists mostly in our 30s, so close to the age Ana was when she died with still with so much artistic brilliance to offer the world.
Dia’s guards began to escort us out of the building — to one performer, a guard said, “We respect your emotions, but we cannot have you disrupting the work.” Some of us exited the museum shouting “We wish Ana Mendieta was still alive!” while others stayed behind, scattering pieces of paper featuring the same phrase around Andre’s artwork. (This was a reference to the Women’s Action Coalition’s protest of the inclusion of Andre’s work at the opening of the Guggenheim Soho in 1992, wherein members of the group strewed copies of a drawing of Mendieta throughout the museum.)
Mendieta’s work was largely ephemeral, incorporating natural materials as well as her own body. In her well-known Silueta Series, she used her body to create silhouettes in grass, earth, and sand — what she called “earth-body sculptures.” She also used blood as a medium. Outside Dia:Beacon, we paid homage to her legacy with our own siluetas in the snow and the word “Ana” written in fake blood just outside the museum’s parking lot. Security guards followed us to the end of the museum’s property, where we unfurled and held a long paper banner that read, “We Wish Ana Mendieta Was Still Alive.”
Crying is often seen as a sign of weakness, of emotional excess, and coded as feminine. As a group, though, our tears were seen as a disruption — a threat. Like much of Ana Mendieta’s art, our performance was ephemeral. The tears are gone now. Our siluetas will melt away with the snow. But it felt powerful and important to bring this raw, emotional confrontation into Andre’s exhibit; to remind the world that people are still angry, that we remember Mendieta’s work, and her legacy, and her death — and that we’re still crying.
“CRYING; A PROTEST” took place at Dia:Beacon (3 Beekman Street, Beacon, New York) on March 7.