On Friday afternoon, the William Benton Museum of Art hosted a Critical Looking and Virtual Dialogue with Assistant Curator and Academic Liaison Amanda Douberley. This week the discussion was based around “Silueta Works in Mexico,” a piece photographed in 1977 by Ana Mendieta.
This discussion was part of the Benton’s analysis of the exhibition, The Human Epoch: Living in the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene compares what the world is now versus what it was prior to 1950. Scholars have decided to mark 1950 as the beginning of industrialization, new chemicals, plastics and more.
“Silueta Works in Mexico” is a photograph that captures five coffin-shaped mounds of dirt with different sketches in them. The one closest to the camera showcases five raised arms, while the furthest is an outline of a human body. These mounds are clearly carved out of the Earth and have visible borders that depict a beginning and end.
Much of these short discussions are based on the audience’s observations. Douberley asks questions to initiate conversation, while the audience members are encouraged to share their thoughts and impressions regarding the work of art.
This particular photograph at first confused the audience, for everyone was unsure of what it truly was.
“Definitely a piece that is going to require a little more time for us to really get into because it is very much about what we can see and also actually what this image is a residue of,” said Douberley.
Some thought it was an excavation of bodies or something that tied to burials. It was important to note that whatever it is, it’s something that is part of the Earth and will one day be washed away.
The piece of work is part of a series that Mendieta makes in Mexico and Iowa.
“Mendieta’s work is oftentimes a document of a performance … Here we are looking at the residue of a performance, in this case an actual carving into the Earth.”Amanda Douberley, Assistant Curator and Academic Liason, William Benton Museum of Art
“Mendieta’s work is oftentimes a document of a performance,” said Douberley. “Here we are looking at the residue of a performance, in this case an actual carving into the Earth.”
At the same time as this picture was taken, Mendieta became very interested in indigenous Central American and Caribbean culture and rituals.
There can be many reasons for the ambiguity of the outlines in the dirt. Some believe it represents people in the afterlife, while others take more non-religious approaches. Certain members of the audience realized these mounds are shaped like coffins and have clear borders built around them.
Ana Mendieta’s own legacy also lives in Connecticut, where her not-so-loving husband has a sculpture.
“Ana Mendieta makes this photo in the same year as Carl Andre, her future husband, makes the stone field sculpture that many of you may be familiar with in Hartford,” she said.