On 13 June over 150 feminist activists mourned the murder and erasure of artist Ana Mendieta. We were there for our sisters who did not survive.
On the 13th of June, I am standing arm in arm with a group of over 150 screaming feminist activists, demanding the Tate Modern gallery acknowledge the stakes in their decision to display work by alleged murderer Carl Andre.
It’s the opening night of The New Tate Project, the gallery’s major new wing. We are all dressed in funeral attire, carrying roses to mourn the murder of artist Ana Mendieta.
Ana Mendieta apparently fell from the window of her 34th floor apartment on the 8 September 1975, during an argument with her husband, artist Carl Andre. In the weeks leading up to her death, Carl had written poetry about wanting to push Ana from a window, and had seen his own dwindling career threatened by the blossoming of hers. Ana had an acute fear of heights.
Carl’s statement changed many many times. He was tried by judge and not jury, there are no photos of Ana’s body. The final thing the doorman heard before hearing her body crash into the floor was her screaming, “No”. To me and many others, this fall was not a fall at all.
We’re chanting “Oi, Tate, we’ve got a vendetta, where the fuck is Ana Mendieta?” We really mean it. We are vengeful and burning with rage.
Far too often the deaths of our sisters are swept under the rug, particularly if they are at the hands of powerful white men. The Tate Modern owns some of Ana Mendieta’s works, but chose not to showcase them as part of their new exhibition, instead choosing Carl Andre. This is despite their new campaign which states they are embracing the “contribution made by many women who have been overlooked for many reasons”.
We screamed: “I WAS PUSHED I DID NOT FALL”, pressing our banners and bodies up against the glass.
Their decision to ignore Ana’s murder is entirely at odds with how they promote themselves.
This protest existed in many spaces. We are angry at the way the art institution lets down women artists, artists of colour, queer artists, non binary artists and trans artists by staying silent over violence against our bodies. We are angry at the erasure of these marginalised bodies from archives, and the lack of justice we constantly suffer.
We were also angry that the death of a woman of colour is deemed so unimportant it has no repercussions for the man who allegedly killed her.
Walking from St Pauls, across the Millenium Bridge to the museum, we chanted: “Andre Andre what you gonna do, what you gonna do when we come for you”. You could feel, as we drew ever nearer, how much everyone walking with us meant it. Our collective fury spurred as along, we wanted answers, we wanted blood.
This protest is not the first of its kind. The first cry-in for Ana Mendieta was held at the Guggenheim in 1992. We walked with the weight of 24 years of shouting and crying.
We initially planned to form a barrier to block the main entrance, but the Tate had roped it off, predicting our movements. We formed a line along the barrier they had built, and then darted under, all of us running towards the glass entrance. We screamed: “I WAS PUSHED I DID NOT FALL”, pressing our banners and bodies up against the glass, echoing the visuals of Ana’s ‘Glass on Body Imprints’ series.
Security had not predicted such a large turn out, none of us had, and so they had to allow us to stay there. We banged on the windows, demanding to be acknowledged by the artists inside, demanding that they confront their complicity through being part of the opening.
It was so empowering to see how many people were genuinely curious about why we were there. Many entering the building were shocked to discover the story of how Ana Mendieta was murdered, of how the Tate are showing her alleged murderer’s work and have all of hers in storage. Many people went in with flyers, some artists who were on the inside even placing them around Andre’s piece.Later, a series of people including myself gave talks or read poems about Ana, and we allowed ourselves to share and mourn for our sister. Amanda Millis, a lecturer from Goldsmiths University, read a beautiful text about dealing with recovery from sexual violence and abusive relationships that are disguised as love.
She spoke into the megaphone defiantly, opening her speech with the deeply affecting: “Ana Mendieta started an impressively eloquent career – she was alive.”
It was in that moment I felt such a solidarity with everyone on the march, and the overwhelming realisation hit me. We were, as a majority, survivors. Survivors of abuse, survivors drawn together by the loss of one of our sisters. We are unified by our trauma, and after the initial fury of the march, here we allowed ourselves the space and time to soften. To cry together, for each other, for Ana. For the sisters who did not, could not, survive.
Sisters Uncut spoke about how these situations where white men of power are made excuses for happen far too regularly. They reminded us of the recent cases of Johnny Depp and Brock Turner. We were again unified in our fury. How often are we going to be expected to watch rapists and murderers get off with no punishment, no justice?
The speaker spoke of how we were gathered to “mourn the erasure of women of colour from art and justice.”
The Tate’s new post-BP campaign is “Art changes, we change”. Inside, they are showing the works of feminist collective activists Guerilla Girls. On the inside walls there is a print of Mona’s Hatoum’s work – a large piece that exclaims ‘OVER MY DEAD BODY’. How many dead bodies must the Tate roll over? It is so easy it is for institutions to pay lip service to those that demand change, to speak of change without implementing it.
At the end of the protest I discovered that inside, there had been a reperformance of the 1992 cry-in. In staging this, the Tate are capitalising off the death of Ana Mendieta without even showing her work, or saying her name. They are capitalising off the gesture of protest, delegitimizing ours, and all the while showcasing her alleged murderer’s work. This is not change.
Now, more than ever, I feel motivated to push forwards with our long term project: WHEREISANAMENDIETA. It is an archiving project carried out by women, trans people, people of colour and non-binary people – which has begun as a retaliation against our erasure from institution archives. We intend to create a platform where people can safely create politicised work without risking institutional backlash or being blacklisted for political involvement.
We have already produced our first zine, which includes poetry and articles by female, non binary and POC writers from around the globe. If you want to contribute to the archive or access the first zine, you can do so by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I emailed scholar and critic B Ruby Rich, a good friend of Ana Mendieta’s, to tell her we’d been carrying on her fight, not expecting to ever hear back from her.
The day after the protest, in my inbox, a heartbreaking and heartwarming “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” Let us never let our sisters be forgotten.