Ana Mendieta | Alison Jacques Gallery

Cuban born artist Ana Mendieta is perhaps most well known for her earth-body sculptures. The show takes place over two rooms, one startlingly white and the other a dark room eerily lit by Mendieta’s short film Volcán. Ritualistic, corporeal and strangely animate, the Siluetas Series is a significant part of the show at Alison Jacques Gallery. It is thrilling to see these alongside her photographic series and stylised drawings — compelling the viewer to understand her unique and distinct celebration of metamorphosis.

Metamorphosis is aptly named; transformation and change are constants throughout the work displayed. Upon entering the gallery you are confronted with a selection of Mendieta’s photographic series, a reminder that her sculptures and installations exist only through the photos that she took. Each series acts as both a separate entity, organised as one and almost performance photography in the story they tell, and simultaneously are part of the overall effect of the numerous series. In this way the thematic threads that run through all her work become ever clearer.

Untitled (Facial Hair Transplants), 1972

A particularly striking photo set, Untitled (Facial Hair Transplants), chronicles the appropriation of male facial hair onto Mendieta’s own face. The set is heavy with questions of identity and power, questions that are enhanced by Mendieta’s direct and arresting gaze, perhaps a precursor to Gillian Wearing’s confrontational and transformative works.

Mendieta privileges the ephemeral and the fleeting. Facial Hair Transplants presents a momentary transformation, simply put the glue cannot last forever. This echoes the stylised silhouettes drawn on worryingly brittle leaves. The Siluetas chronicle a long time period, documenting the way they are re-consumed by the natural world. Various pieces from the Siluetas Series are present in the show, including Volcán which embellishes upon the static shape of the figure in the earth by introducing gunpowder — culminating in an arresting and volcanic consideration of the body.

Volcán, 1979

What is particularly obvious within the exhibition is that the earth acts as both site and medium with which Ana Mendieta explores the self, the body and elements of power. Each piece in the gallery is intrinsic to understanding the rest of the work, echoing each other and also informing the way we understand and appreciate it. Through utilising metamorphosis as a lens with which to view the pieces, Alison Jacques Gallery’s exhibition is wholly receptive to the life and work of the artist.

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