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The WHEREISANAMENDIETA protest at Tate Modern
Photography Taylor McGraa

Protest hits Tate over exhibition of alleged killer

A mass of activists stormed a VIP opening of the new Tate Modern building, demanding for Carl Andre’s work to be removed from the exhibition

Yesterday evening, around 150 activists marched together over London’s Millennium Bridge, towards the Tate Modern. Dressed head to toe in black, they chanted at the top of their lungs: “Oi Tate, we’ve got a vendetta, where the fuck is Ana Mendieta?!”

Their anger was fuelled by the gallery’s choice to exhibit minimalist sculptor, Carl Andre, at the opening of their new wing, The Tate Project, as well as the institution’s failure to display the art of Ana Mendieta in the same space – a prolific feminist sculptor and WoC performance artist who many believe to have been killed by Andre in 1985, despite the case having been thrown out.

31 years ago, Carl Andre was charged with murdering Ana Mendieta by throwing her from the 34th floor of their New York apartment. Three years later, Andre was acquitted of all charges. Some accuse the police of sloppy prosecutorial work, and to this day many remain skeptical of the tragic event, refusing to believe that it was an accident. It was an incident that divided New York’s mid-80s art scene. Despite owning the work of both artists, the Tate Modern have decided to keep Ana Mendieta’s pieces in storage, while displaying that of her alleged killer in the new wing, something that has dismayed protesters.

Last night, the gallery hosted VIP guests for the grand opening of their new wing, and with rumours suggesting that Carl Andre himself would be attending the event, activists stormed to the entrances of the building raging against the omission of Ana Mendieta.

The protesters were organised through the WHEREISANAMENDIETA movement – an archiving project which retaliates against the erasure of female, non-binary, trans and WOC narratives in the art world. With their first zine published, they are currently in the process of building a platform where female, non-binary, trans and WOC artists and writers can exhibit politicised work without facing institutional backlash.

“Andre, Andre, what you gonna do, what you gonna do when we come for you?” they roared, as they approached The Turbine entrance on the right-hand side of the gallery. On arrival, the activists linked arms, blocking guests from accessing the exhibition. Creating a barricade with their bodies, the group were armed with flyers, placards and banners reading, “CARL ANDRE KILLED ANA MENDIETA”, “WHERE IS ANA MENDIETA?”

As the public surrounding the gallery began to wonder what was going on, so did security. Then the activists turned around and stormed towards the glass walls of The Turbine entrance. Hammering against it with their hands and bodies, they pressed their banners up to it. Guests inside of the building watched from the seclusion of the gallery, taking pictures and looking on. Security eventually intervened.

Ruth Findley, a corporate communications manager for the gallery, confirmed that the Tate Modern owns five works by Ana Mendieta, which are all regularly on display. “Carl Andre is recognised as one of the leading Minimalist sculptors of his generation", Findley said. “His work continues to be shown regularly in exhibitions around the world”.

The movement believes that in failing to exhibit Mendieta’s work the Tate is glorifying violent men within the art institution. “I’m a survivor of domestic violence,” said Emily, a member of the movement and of Sisters Uncut. “So for me, the exhibition of Carl Andre’s work sends a very clear message that the men who have abused you will be celebrated, and that you will not be heard”.

Laura, another member of the WHEREISANAMENDIETA movement, said: “They have chosen to show the works of white men and abusive men who murder women, while Mendieta’s is being hidden”, she told us. “They should not be giving a platform to Carl Andre – it shows how little the elitist art industry cares about women of colour and survivors of abuse”.

“I’m a survivor of domestic violence. So for me, the exhibition of Carl Andre’s work sends a very clear message that the men who have abused you will be celebrated, and that you will not be heard” – Emily, Sisters Uncut

After a short while, the group turned back and made their way around to the front of the gallery, handing out flyers to onlookers as they marched, and engaging with them in conversation about their cause. As one member of the group spoke about their plans to create safe platforms for minority artists, onlookers took copies of the WHEREISANAMENDIETA zine and thanked them for their actions.

Of course, there exists the argument that removing platforms is a ‘step too far’ – do we have a right to demand the banishment of artists who we personally condemn and who have been absolved of blame by police?

However, speaking to the WHEREISANAMENDIETA activists, it is clear that for them this cause goes much deeper. “This is symptomatic of a society within which men are not held accountable for violence towards women, especially women of colour”, said one activist named Naomi. “The art world has to resist systematic oppression”.

The protest ended at the front of the Tate Modern building in view of the Southbank river. Here, activists and members of the public gathered listening to speeches by WHEREISANAMENDIETA organisers, Sisters Uncut representatives, and fellow artists who had come in support and celebration of Ana Mendieta’s work.

“We have a deep connection to Mendieta’s life, art and understand her abusive relationship”, Amanda Millis, a lecturer at Goldsmiths University, shouted to the crowd. “The London underground ads for the new building state ‘Art Changes. We Change’. Tate, your advertising is false. We request that you exhibit Ana Mendieta in place of Carl Andre. We ask that you move forward from being in the business of violence.”

A poetry performance dedicated to the artist, and readings from the WHEREISANAMENDIETA zine also took place. When the speeches were finished and the crowd began to disperse, an eerie silence fell onto the site. In the grey drizzle of London, protest flyers were left littered at the feet of onlooking staff and police, leaving the pleas of the activists plastered to the pavement: “CARL ANDRE KILLED ANA MENDIETA – WHERE IS ANA MENDIETA?”