The Hayward Gallery is presenting the work of two leading women artists this autumn. Ana Mendieta: Traces, is the UK’s first retrospective of one of the most significant yet unacknowledged artists of the late 20th century. In addition to films, sculptures, photographs, drawings, personal writings and notebooks, an extensive research room with hundreds of photographic slides will give unique access to works Ana Mendieta could never show during her short life.
Cuban-born American artist Ana Mendieta (1948-1985) was sent from her native homeland to an orphanage in Iowa at the age of 12 and dedicated her entire life to the search for her origins and identity. In her work, she left haunting traces of her body fashioned from flowers, tree branches, mud, rocks, sand, gunpowder, and fire. Her fragile yet powerful works speak of the desire to connect with the earth and to explore a mythical relationship with nature. Mendieta’s works are rooted in cathartic exercises, relieving the pain of the trauma of an early exile.
The exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, the first in a UK public institution solely devoted to the artist, will show the full breadth of Ana Mendieta’s work. Mendieta was part of a generation of innovative artists whose work no longer fitted the conventions of exhibition making and collecting of art. Covering her entire career, and revealing different facets of her unique practice, this timely exhibition will position Mendieta as an influential figure from art history, reveal the creative mind of the artist, and convey the legacy of her work as well as its relevance for artists today.
One of the focal points of the exhibition will be the re-construction of solo exhibitions from the artist’s lifetime, including her main body of works, Siluetas. The extensive and fascinating archive material will shed a new light on the way the artist worked and documented her own artistic practice. Featuring super-8 films, photographs, slides, drawings, prints, objects and sculptures, Ana Mendieta: Traces will not only follow a chronology, but will look at the artist’s entire oeuvre through the lens of her own time, bringing it afresh to the beginning of the 21st century. The exhibition focuses both on the incredible power of the artist’s imagery as well as her critical potential and importance for feminism, land art, and her support for ethnic minorities.
Mendieta’s short career was prolific and began with an accomplished and influential body of work created as a graduate student at the University of Iowa. As a student Mendieta became interested in the inter-action between performative rituals and sculpture and important motifs for her life-long practice emerged during these years, including the use of blood, feathers, fire, earth, and the body. Mendieta also began to draw upon and recreate rituals particularly resonant with Afro-Cuban and Catholic traditions, and goddess archetypes.
Since her death in 1985 Mendieta has been shown in major institutions including the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington D.C.; Whitney Museum, New York; and Tapiés Foundation in Barcelona; among others, but never extensively in the UK.
The second artist Dayanita Singh presents GO AWAY CLOSER a landmark project in the artistic life of one of today’s foremost photographers, Dayanita Singh. Opening on 8 October, GO AWAY CLOSER will be the first major UK retrospective of the artist’s work, investigating and challenging the boundaries and practice of photography as an artistic medium. The exhibition will bring together Singh’s artistic oeuvre from the past decades and a major new body of work, never shown before.
Dayanita Singh is internationally acclaimed for breaking away from the print-on-the-wall tradition of art photography and creating unique mass-produced artist’s books. Used as a raw material, photography is a starting point for Singh, rather than an end in itself. In GO AWAY CLOSER at the Hayward Gallery, Singh will show her portable ‘museums’ for the first time. These large wooden structures can be placed and opened in different ways, each holding 70 to 140 photographs.
Creating structures to display as well as to house photographic prints has fascinated Singh ever since the making of Sent a Letter in 2007, with publisher Gerhard Steidl; a multi-volume mini-library-cum-exhibition of photo-books in its own slip-case. More recently, her book File Room (2013) attests to an obsessive interest in the personal processes and spacial strategies related to archiving.
Singh’s experiments with book-making have now led her to create this major new body of work. The design and architecture of the ‘museums’ is integral to the images they hold. Within what she has termed a “photo-architecture” Singh’s old and new images can be endlessly displayed, sequenced, edited and archived within the structures. They will continue to grow, as Singh keeps adding new work.
“Photography is not enough for me,” says Singh, “it is just my language. Unless I can make poetry out of it, or a novel, what good is all my vocabulary?”
The ‘museums’ create spaces of intimate engagement with the images as interconnected bodies of work, rather than single images. They display stories, themes and image-repertoires conceived by Singh from the vast archive of her own photographs as well as new taken images. Singh expands photography into the realm of not only fiction and poetry, but also of sculpture and architecture.
Alongside these new works, the Hayward gallery will be showing Singh’s earlier series including Myself Mona Ahmed, I am as I am, Go Away Closer, Blue Book, Dream Villa and House of Love, as well as her “moving still”, Mona and Myself. After photographing her friend, the eunuch Mona Ahmed, over two decades, Singh distils the essence of her long engagement with Mona’s life in this recent work, shown at the German Pavilion at the Venice Biennale this year and presented at the Hayward gallery for GO AWAY CLOSER.