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Goddess In Exile | Griselda Steiner  | Scene4 Magazine | September 2019 | www.scene4.com

The Goddess In Exile

Griselda Steiner

“Every woman is a Goddess - a part of the divine in nature that the modern world has put into exile.”


In recent issues of Scene4, I presented a sequence of scenes from my screenplay THE GODDESS IN EXILE, a fictionalized account of the brief life of Cuban born artist Ana Mendieta (Elvira) that deals with themes of wife murder, the natural versus the man-made world and the mythic feminine. Ana Mendieta’s death at age 36 became a scandal that rocked the art world at its zenith making headlines. My screenplay adapts the basic story of her alleged murder by her husband, prominent minimalist artist Carl Andre (Hans), who was acquitted by a judge without a jury and explores the premise ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’.  The action takes place in the vivid milieu of the New York City art scene in the 1970's, capturing the excitement of the elite intelligentsia with character vignettes from the highest echelons of American artists and art world doyennes.


In this scene as Elvira walks with her friend Joanne through Washington Square Park, Joanne warns Elvira that her she should leave Hans.  Elvira gives Joanne the keys to her studio that Joanne thinks is a premonition of her death.


When Elvira heads off to Han’s best friend’s opening, he arranges to party with his new girlfriend Nina while she is gone.  As Elvira goes down the streets of Tribecca in her native Indian poncho, her flute music wafts up the sides of buildings.  At the opening she befriends its owner Chanelle who later offers her a one woman show.  In bed with Hans the next evening she studies photographs of South American artifacts including a photograph of a statute of the Goddess Tzazoltzeoltl, a primitive figure of a woman squatting giving birth to herself. 


On her recent trip to visit her father in Peru, Elvira had a powerful vision after taking Ayahuasca as she lay on a rock in the Amazon that duplicated a native creation myth.  This vision changes her art from the use of  objective forms to combining the human body with earth elements that she feels represent our natural mother.


Elvira’s new art is based on Ana Mendieta’s series of “earth body” works (1973-1980) where she installed herself on the ground covering her body with blood, flowers, and feathers in natural landscapes with water, rocks and trees.  In early indigenous cultures art was created in caves, on rocks and earth for burial -  as astronomical calendars and maps, religious rituals and magic conjure.  As cultures and technologies evolved the impulse remained the same but moved from the collective view to identify man as an individual in relation to himself and the world.  To fast forward through a vast array of visual history our view of the earth changed with the perspective of satellites and computer technology. Our global awareness of the earth as a spaceship in the cosmos as jewel suspended in space brings us back to the more primitive view that the earth is the mother womb of birth, death and resurrection.





After the Circle JOANNE and ELVIRA walk home through Washington Square Park, they look frail against the large dark silhouette of budding trees against a graying sky.



Don't worry about Hans.  Everyone knows dealers manipulate their artists, especially Vasseli.  He's clever, that's why his artists are successful.



But Hans is taking it out on me.  Before my trip to Peru, he destroyed my best piece of a pregnant woman.  I know he threw it out the window.


JOANNE stops walking.


JOANNE  (astonished)

No.  This is an omen Elvira.  Leave him now or it will get worse.  He makes promises, then betrays you.  He belittles you, treats you like a maid.  He won't let anyone important see your work then he destroys it.



I keep hoping it will get better.  That it is a nightmare and I will wake up.



Hans has a reputation for being a bully.  Did you think he will change for you?



But my work, the studio, I can't afford a space of my own.  Tonight I have new ideas. I had a vision in Peru which means my art will go in a new direction.



What do you want to say in your work?


In a shot of ELVIRA'S face against the trees, we see her expression of supernatural joy.  The wind is blowing her braid in spirals.



That every woman is a Goddess - a part of the divine in nature that the modern world has put into exile.



That is a very strong statement.  How will you say it?



I will say it in the earth - on rocks - in the trees.


After ELVIRA walks a few steps, she turns to JOANNE and pulls a set of keys from her pocketbook and gives them to her.



These are extra keys to my studio. Come to my studio anytime.


JOANNE looks at her oddly then watches her run through the park.  JOANNE studies the dark branches of trees against the sky, then continues to walk.





CLOSE SHOT of HANS cowboy boots as his feet rest on the arm of his black leather sofa.  As HANS lays on the sofa wearing blue jeans, a green silk shirt, leather vest and cowboy hat over his face, the CAMERA PANS his body slowly.  We hear the SOUND of flute music and drums beating from behind ELVIRA's studio door.


HANS  (to himself)

That love be the cause of hate,

Something is twisted...


The music dims when the SOUND of the phone rings on the glass coffee table in front of the sofa.  As HANS reaches down to pick it up, we see an ashtray filled with joint butts.  HANS picks up the phone and talks without taking off his hat.  He holds his hand over the mouthpiece.


HANS (on phone)

Hey, Nina, why are you calling me now?




HANS  (cont. on phone)

Yes, Tony's opening is tonight.




HANS  (cont. on phone)

Ya, she's going.




HANS  (cont. on phone)

Sure we can party here while she's gone.


HANS hangs up the phone, pulls his hat over his face smiling broadly and double clicks his boots.


POV HANS, ELVIRA's studio door opens and she enters wearing a colorful South American poncho with shaman pouch around her neck.  She carries a bag filled with native instruments.  She walks towards the sofa and sits next to HANS.



Ready to leave?  This is Tony's big night -

first big one-man show.


HANS pulls his hat off and looks at his watch.                                      



Maybe later.  I'm not in the mood for a

crowd right now.  Ya know what I mean?


ELVIRA looks at the ashtray filled with joint butts.



What will I tell Tony?



Remind him to check the angle of the spots on the floor. He'll know what I mean.





CLOSE UP of Elvira's poncho blowing in the wind.  She walks quickly up the streets of Tribeca.  As she plays her flute, the beautiful Andean melody seems to drift up the loft buildings' facades and mimic their intricate patterns.





MEDIUM SHOT of ELVIRA standing outside the glass doors of the CORAL GALLERY looking in.  Andy's crew - ULTRA PURPLE, DUKE and TRASH walk by.  SISSY gives ELVIRA a kiss hello.


ELVIRA views the vast interior where a few people look at the paintings.  TONY and JOANNE talk animatedly in the rear.





ELVIRA enters the gallery and studies the paintings, which are crude but vigorously painted diamond shapes of gray and brown on large unframed canvases.  ELVIRA looks at the spots on the floor whose beams create a vibrating grid - an optical effect making the otherwise dull paintings look alive.


ELVIRA (to herself)

Very clever, Hans.


JOANNE takes swift notes as TONY answers her questions.  They stand before a bar table covered with wine bottles, glasses and ice buckets.


JOANNE  (whispers in TONY's ear)

My publisher won't cover the Coral... but I can try.


JOANNE looks behind her as CHANELLE (a tall woman with curly blonde hair wearing a purple pants suit and amethyst jewelry) walks out of her office arm-in-arm with SUE.


JOANNE  (blows in TONY'S ear}

Chanelle's too "nouveau street" for his

highbrow Gotham Arts.


ELVIRA approaches JOANNE and TONY.  ELVIRA's poncho and CHANELLE's purple suit create a colorful diagonal.


CHANELLE   (in a phony French accent)

Joanne, I just adore your reviews.  I'm looking

forward to a marvelous write-up.





Isn't that Hans' wife?



Her name is Elvira.



Yes. I've seen a few pieces of hers, very unique.


CHANELLE lets go of SUE's arm to grab ELVIRA and pull her away.


OVERHEAD SHOTS of the gallery scene as CHANELLE escorts ELVIRA through the crowd.



The art world is so fickle - so frivolous.  You never know what will happen moment to moment.  Does Hans understand your work?



At the beginning our intellectual and artistic

differences were very exciting to me - a game we

played on a common board.



Maybe love - so to speak. . .



The impulse is the same - to create forms - to use wood - clay - stone but to me the elements are sacred.



Hans has no spiritual sense.


DAVE brushes up to ELVIRA to kiss her on the cheek.  He pushes against CHANELLE.



What a rude man.  You must introduce me.


CHANELLE walks away from ELVIRA to follow DAVE.


OVERHEAD SHOT as ELVIRA wanders through the crowd alone.


ELVIRA  (to herself)

No, he doesn't.  We get along.  Do you think

its right for me to stay with him?


LONG SHOT as TONY approaches ELVIRA and hands her a glass of wine. ELVIRA swigs it down.



Play for us.  What a boring crowd.


ELVIRA takes out her flute and drum and starts to play.  The crowd quiets down.


OVERHEAD SHOT as the crowd surrounds ELVIRA to listen.





The next evening, HANS and ELVIRA laze on their large double bed on white sheets.  While HANS rests, with his back to ELVIRA, watching a TV documentary on skydiving, ELVIRA, propped against pillows, sketches in a small sketchbook. (Her leather bound book is private and HANS does not know it exists.)



Tony's opening last night was a big success.



Oh, really...?



So why didn't you come?



I had an appointment.



But Tony's your friend.  I can't imagine what inspired him to go from painting big sketchy people to making small diamond grids.



Oh, he's just starting to catch on.


Near ELVIRA on the bed are photographs of South American artifacts including a photograph of a statute of the Goddess Tzazoltzeoltl [a primitive picture of the figure of a woman squatting giving birth to herself].  The CAMERA ZOOMS and mixes shots of the Goddess and the TV documentary of figures falling in the sky.   ELVIRA eyes HANS.



Why do you watch TV with no sound?



Because....I wouldn't want to disturb your train of thought.


He rolls close to ELVIRA and looks at her drawing which duplicates the photograph, only instead of a head coming out of the woman's womb, she appears to be peeing blood and making corn grow. 



What am I seeing?


ELVIRA (laughing)

The native women in the mountain villages had no tampax - no kotex...



What'd they wear?  Rags?



No, they held their blood, then peed it out.  But here my Goddess pees blood that nourishes the earth, then corn grows.


HANS pinches her.



No, don't tell me what to think when I look at an image.


ELVIRA takes a pillow from behind her head and hits him.  CLOSE on the white pillow case.

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Griselda Steiner is a poet, dramatist, a freelance writer and a Senior Writer for Scene4. She is the author of The Silent Power of Words. For more of her poetry and articles, check the Archives.

©2019 Griselda Steiner
©2019 Publication Scene4 Magazine



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