Finding Ana exhibit at Gallery 101

Gallery 101's latest art exhibition, Finding Ana, features photographs taken by artist Elise Rasmussen on her recent journey to the jungles of Cuba to reclaim the lost life and sculptures of Ana Mendieta.

The exhibition is on until Feb. 8 and showcases photos of weathered statues against the vibrant greens and warm light of the Cuban jungle.

Gallery 101 curator Laura Margita says she chose to show the photographs because she was attracted to the beautiful images, but also to the history of Mendieta, a Cuban feminist artist.

“As a feminist, I think that women’s histories are so obscured that I was really drawn to showing this work,” says Margita.

Reena Katz, acting director at Ottawa’s SAW Gallery, attended the opening of the Finding Ana exhibition earlier this month and applauded the project.

“She’s been taken up by feminist artists and academics as someone who represents a marginalized voice,” says Katz.

Mendieta spent most of her life in the United States and was not well known in her birth country of Cuba, says Margita. However, according to the Gallery 101 website, Mendieta returned to Cuba in 1981 to create the “Rupestrian Sculptures,” which addressed her separation from her original homeland.

Rasmussen is a Canadian-born artist now living in New York, whose career focuses on historical research combined with art. She travelled to Cuba on a visual art research grant in 2012 to take the photos. Her intention was to follow Mendieta’s footsteps and pinpoint where the artist created her “Rupestrian Sculptures.” After being led through the jungle by a man wielding a machete, Rasmussen says she discovered the caves where Mendieta worked.

“It was completely by chance, and a bit of fluke and a bit of luck that I was able to not only find the exact location,” says Rasmussen, “but actually to see that the sculptures were somewhat intact.”

The art world believed the sculptures no longer existed and even reputable sources, such as the Guggenheim Museum, reported the pieces destroyed, says Rasmussen. In Finding Ana, Rasmussen says she connected the discovery of the missing statues with her goal of retelling the story of Mendieta’s life.

The project fits within Gallery 101’s mandate to show feminist works, says Margita. She adds that the local gallery works to promote art from other commonly marginalized groups, such as people with disabilities or those who are transitioning genders.

“There is still a great need for supporting feminist works, so to Gallery 101 that means interrogating perceived notions about what feminist art is,” says Margita.

Katz, who is also currently working on a project involving Mendieta’s sculptures, says she is intrigued by the life and death of the Cuban artist. Mendieta died in 1985 from a fall out of an apartment window, at only 36 years old. Her husband and fellow artist, Carl Andre, was tried, but acquitted of murder in 1988.

“One of the most interesting things I find about her is her rebellious and fierce approach to her work and her public persona,” says Katz.

Finding Ana is meant to urge one towards questioning the truth, especially when related to women’s histories, says Rasmussen.

“The works I have been interested in over the past years have been about offering a voice or revisiting these moments of history that are usually written by men and are serving men,” says Rasmussen, “and to try and open it up to an alternative and female perspective.”