My Darling Sexy Beautiful Tropicanita by Artemisa Clark
I can not forget this death. I can not forget the dehumanization of men that causes the brutalization of women. I can not forget that I am a female and weaker. I can not forget the inhumanity of a society that will not recognize that the oppression of one member of that society by another hurts us all. I can not forget that this is what we fear every day.
– Betsy Damon
Sometime between 4:30 and 5:30 AM on Sunday, September 8, 1985, Ana Mendieta “went out the window” of the bedroom she shared with Carl Andre on the 34th floor of 300 Mercer St., NYC. The circumstances within which she fell remain unknown to all but Andre himself.
On September 7, 2013, the 28th anniversary of Mendieta’s last night, the factual circumstances of that night were played out relatively accurately in a room on which Andre’s Mercer St. apartment had been laid out. Those in attendance engaged in the sharing of Mendieta’s last sensorial experiences – Chinese food was eaten, champagne and wine imbibed, and Dracula (1931) and Without Love (1945) played at 6:00 and 8:10 PM, respectively, each pushed forward 5 hours to ensure that the event was reasonably attended. The movies were broken up by historically accurate commercials and station breaks, and during the period between the two when Mendieta was speaking to a close friend on the phone, her video works were shown.
My Darling Sexy Beautiful Tropicanita Installation, 2013
I was expecting this piece to be about the event, the convening of a handful of UCSD graduate students on this specific night to share in Mendieta’s last acts, but instead of sitting quietly and watching the movies, those in attendance discussed the work around us and Mendieta herself. While her work was on the television screen, everyone was quiet. I was asked multiple times what I thought happened that night, and my answer was met with knowing nods – not necessarily because those with whom I was speaking knew the specifics of the case, but because the story (and all of its ambiguities) feels so familiar.
The floorplan was littered with pieces I had made inspired by the story of that night or the events leading up to it. One detail that Mendieta spoke of to her close friends and family was that she was keeping two sets of photocopied evidence of Andre’s flings with other women. In keeping with that detail, I made a pile of black and white works on paper. Some were original responses to my research, and others were reproductions of things I found interesting. The quote above was placed next to Betsy Damon’s contribution to “In Homage to Ana Mendieta,” a show in 1986 at Zeus-Trabia Gallery comprised of work inspired by Mendieta, all of which was created by female artists. I was typing this phrase out on a typewriter over and over again, trying to get the words and spacing right, filling up some pages with my consistent fuck ups while leaving others nearly blank, not sure whether or not any of this would make it into the piece later that day, when I started to cry. I didn’t stop what I’d been doing. I just typed and cried, those words looping through my head, through my body and ending up somewhere in my gut.
I had initially considered the event more of a failure than a success. I was overly excited about all of the research I had done and how that was evident in specific aspects of the piece. That quote, however, now reminds me that this piece was never really about the specifics, especially about a night that no one will ever fully understand. Instead, in sharing stories of personal experiences with her work, the influence of her life, and the emotions brought up by the circumstances of her death, what those gathered together on the night of September 7 did was not remember a person they didn’t know or even necessarily learn anything new about her work or life; we continued to not forget. In not forgetting, her work continues to be shared and the social circumstances, much more so than the specific ones, under which she died continue to be discussed.