Post-modern; contemporary; land-based work. When it comes to art, categorizations can feel like straight jackets, bracing a work into a confining realm of signifiers and failing to adequately represent the subtle directions it can move. Amara Tabor-Smith certainly confronted these limitations these past few years when attempting to name her practice. Yet, throughout the making of EarthBodyHOME, presented at ODC this week, a definition emerged: conjure art, a “music, visual or performance work that utilizes indigenous spiritual rituals to conjure the energies of gods, deities, and/or ancestor spirits with the intention to manifest personal, social, spiritual, and/or environmental justice, alignment and healing.”
EarthBodyHOME is inspired by the work of Ana Mendieta. Born in 1948, Mendieta was a Cuban American visual artist whose work encompasses photography, body art, sculpture and performance art, and whose tragic death in 1985 sparked a fierce debate about gender and race issues that still resonates within the art world to this day. Mendieta was one of the thousands of children who were sent to American orphanages and foster homes through the Operation Peter Pan, a collaboration between the United States government and the Catholic Church, in the early 1960s. Exile and disconnection are some of the themes that permeate her work, some of which consists in ephemeral pieces created in nature, with elements such as soil, rocks, leaves, or blood and which she often referred to as “earth-body” art.
Introduced to the work of Mendieta a few years ago, Tabor-Smith reconnected with it in the summer of 2014, while pursuing her MFA at Hollins University. Throughout her research for EarthBodyHOME, she imbued herself with Mendieta’s process to connect with the places that the Cuban-born artist explored. Tabor-Smith often rehearsed in natural settings, “opening [herself] to receive information and inspiration in a space.” As a priest in the Yoruba/Lukumi tradition known as Ifa, Tabor-Smith also researched the Afro-Cuban and Taíno mythology that Mendieta drew upon.
Through pointing to Mendieta’s body of work and conjuring her spirit, EarthBodyHOME illuminates how an individual, personal and artistic trajectory reflects larger issues of identity, displacement, gender and racial inequities.