Are our times so disenchanted that the Venice Biennale has invested the works of a poor soul from Moravia with the power of liberating new potential?
Anna Zemánková (1908–1986), now an established figure in the world of Outsider Art, began while in her 50s to produce works that nothing in her background had readied her for.
More importantly, by their very nature they responded to injunctions from the innermost depths; the creative process took no account of pleasing others. So at an early hour, when the demons of the night were still battling the seminal iridescences of the dawn, this family woman, in a trance, would mentally gather strange flowers which she would draw forth out of paper. Stitching them together, embroidering them over, pruning them, sometimes studding the heavens with thousands of pinpricks, crafting an entire system of white magic in the service of a hortus deliciarum from which she hoped, perhaps, to make the ointments, balms and potions that would cure her depression and free her being.
Her legs were amputated and she was doomed to silently contemplate the breaking day; all the while, this vegetation was growing slowly within her. “I grow flowers that grow nowhere else,” she would say. But from what herbarium of the abysses did these rootless, soil-less plants, the flowerings – imaginary or erotic – swell up? To what plant kingdom do they belong? How are they to be classified?
In fact, like the plants in the work of Séraphine de Senlis, can these still be considered flowers? Are they not already fruit? They are fleshy and bursting with heady juices, saturated with the urges of a woman who, giving herself up to an unelucidated mystery, simply says, “I live.”
It was in the early 60s that this humble Moravian began to produce work for which her condition had not prepared her, responding strikingly to injunctions from the depths. Thus, at a time when the demons of the night were still vying for the seminal iridescence of dawn, she would pick strange flowers in her mind, to make them protrude from the paper. “I grow flowers that don’t grow anywhere else”, she used to say. Anna Zemánková is already an established figure in the art brut, having been honored in 2013 at the 55th Venice Biennale, before a significant body of her work joined the collections of the Centre Pompidou, and the collections of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 2020. In 2024, his works will be presented for the second time at the Venice Biennale, curated by Adriano Pedrosa.
Preface : Terezie Zemankova
Foreword : Christian Berst
Catalog published to mark the exhibition Anna Zemankova : hortus deliciarum, from may 31st to july 20th, 2013.