Mythologies of Return

Mythologies of Return:

Revisiting Ana Mendieta’s Rupestrian Sculptures

In the summer of 1981, Ana Mendieta returned to Cuba for the first time after a long period of exile to reconnect with her ancestry and identity, leaving her mark at las Escaleras de Jaruco, a national park outside Havana. Inside the limestone walls of the caves, she carved low-relief sculptures, evoking the belief system of the indigenous Taíno people of Cuba, and individually naming each piece Iyaré (Mother), Maroya (Moon), Guanaroca (The First Woman), Bacayú (Light of the Day), among others, and collectively gathering them under the title, Rupestrian Sculptures Series. In 2012, I traveled twice to Cuba, in January by myself and in June with my collaborator Adriana Méndez Rodenas to document and study the carvings Mendieta had made in 1981. Mendieta photographed these works intending to publish a book of etchings titled Rupestrian Sculptures Series (transcription of artist’s notes, Clearwater 39 – 41); José Juan Arrom, then professor of anthropology at Yale and author of Mythology and Arts of the Prehispanic Antilles (1975), a work which deeply influenced Mendieta, was to write the preface for the book (Clearwater, artist’s notes, 40).

Due to her untimely death in 1985, Mendieta did not finish the project. She completed only five of the twelve sets of photo etchings she had originally conceived, and signed only one of the completed portfolios, now held at the Art Institute of Chicago (Viso [2004], 250). Galerie Lelong then hired Liliana Porter to print the rest in 1993, what was followed by Clearwater’s facsimile edition, Ana Mendieta–A Book of Works (1993). According to the artist’s notes, the book was to be “’small in scale’” in order to evoke an intimate feeling in the spectator (Clearwater 40). By recreating Taíno mythology and symbolism, she wanted to achieve a close collaboration—almost a conversation—between these past ancestors and her own experience of migration and diaspora.

Mythologies of Return: Revisiting Ana Mendieta’s Rupestrian Sculptures is a limited edition artist’s book honoring Ana Mendieta’s Rupestrian Sculptures and her original proposal of making an artist’s book of this series. With the project concept, copperplate photogravure images, printing and binding by Aurora De Armendi and an interdisciplinary scholarly essay entitled Mythologies of Return: The Taíno Route in Ana Mendieta’s Rupestrian Sculptures by Adriana Méndez Rodenas, the authors have joined their distinctive areas of expertise in reinterpreting Mendieta’s series as it appears thirty years later.

Works Cited:
Clearwater, Bonnie. Ana Mendieta, A Book of Works. Ed. Bonnie Clearwater. Miami Beach: Grassfield Press, 1993.
Mendieta, Ana. Esculturas Rupestres / Rupestrian Sculptures. Suite of 10 photo etchings. Made from photographs taken by Ana Mendieta in 1981, Jaruco Park, Cuba [las Escaleras de Jaruco, Cuba]. Edition of 20. Galerie Lelong, New York.
Viso, Olga M. Ana Mendieta. Earth, Body, Sculpture, and Performance, 1972 – 1985. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution; Ostfildern-Ruit, Germany: Hatje Cantz Publishers, 2004

Book Details:
This hand-sewn, long-stitch, soft-cover artist’s book is bound in St. Armand paper with Cave paper for the spine support. The end sheets are Nara Natural Dyed Green paper. Each image title was handset in Garamond type. The essay was set in Bembo digital type and letterpress printed from polymer plates onto text-weight paper. The copperplate photogravures were printed on Gampi and chine collé onto Somerset paper.  The book is housed in a slipcase covered in Iris book cloth.

6.9 x 10.24 x 0.7 inches
Edition of 20, 56 pages
2009 – 1017

Images from top left to bottom right:

1: Installation view at The Center for Book Arts

2: Printing Maroya, Color copperplate photogravure

3: On my first visit to the site, I spent a few hours looking for Mendieta’s sculptures with no luck. Accidentally me and my cousins came across Santiago Fonseca, a school security guard in las Escaleras de Jaruco who made this drawing for us to be able to find the cave. He recalled seeing Mendieta work for most of the day in the early 1980’s.

4-8: On our way to the cave and coming across Ana Mendieta’s work.