To and From: Davi Det Hompson Correspondents - Anna Banana
Mail Art - Performance - Stamp Art- Self Publishing
Anna Banana is one of the most significant contributors of the Mail-Art phenomenon. She has participated in the fine art of correspondence/mail-art exchange since 1971 and remains one of its primary innovators. She received a teaching certificate from the University of British Columbia majoring in art and design in the late 1960s and began her career working in public schools in Victoria, B.C., and later in an experimental school which she later co-directed. She outlined this unique experience in an essay in Radical School Reform (Gross, 1984). It provides valuable insight into her experiences in education and teaching through guided activities. Over the course of her career she also worked as a graphic designer, typesetter, writer, publisher, printer/creator of artist stamp editions and most recently artist trading cards.
View the guide to the Anna Banana Colleciton held in Speical Collections and Archives, VCU Libraries.
In response to a sense of isolation from the traditional gallery/exhibition systems that so many artists of this time experienced, Anna took art to the street in 1971 to engage the public and offer free art classes. Costumed in colorful rainbow regalia, she created the public performance The Town Fool. She used this activity as an opportunity to connect with the public audience about alternative possibilities for viewing and creating art. At the time her approach was largely misunderstood by the citizens of Victoria, so Anna produced and distributed her handmade newsletter, the Banana Rag, to schools and organizations to disseminate and clarify her intentions (Interview, 2004).
The 'banana' nickname started by students in one of her experimental classes, became her official persona for her subsequent mail-art projects and interactive public performances. April Fool's Day Parade, Banana Olympics, and Going, Going, Gone Bananas, were a few of the performances organized after she moved to San Francisco in 1973. These gatherings playfully parodied the original counterpart versions. She organized farcical race competitions for the Banana Olympics and set up events for shared communal experience by conferring a "Masters of Bananaology" on all persons who mutually experienced they were 'going bananas' (The San Francisco Bay Guardian, 1978)."I personally feel the really important value of art is in the DOING of it, not the sitting back and watching, or even the final product of the exercise. I realized if I tried to engage the public in known ways of art-making...drawing, painting, sculpting, etc. they would back away saying "Oh, I'm not an artist, I can't even draw a straight line...but if the creative activity offered didn't fall into their lexicon of known 'art practice,'then they might, and in fact, DID engage in the activity. Thus my April Fool's Day events took the form of contests...decorate a banana one year, banana art another, banana fashion contests, and of course the Banana Olympics." (Banana, Anna. Personal communication 11 July, 2004)
The Town Fool prompted her to mail copies of the Banana Rag to Canadian artist, Lee-Nova, who was associated with the Image Bank. The Image Bank was started by Vancouver artists, Michael Morris and Vincent Traslov as a collective bank for mail-art collaborative projects. The Image Bank contributed to the formation of a national and international network when their published Image Bank Request Lists appeared in FILE magazine in 1973. Circulation of address lists were a primary way for artists like Anna and Davi Det to reach unknown artists by responding to printed requests for images. Joining and using the address lists, and printing similar requests in her newsletter Banana Rag, caused Anna Banana's mailbox to overflow with responses of banana imagery and it guaranteed her plunge into the network. (Crane, Stofflet 1984, 245)
The mail-art exchange with Anna Banana in the Davi Det Hompson Manuscript and Archive Collection spans the years 1972 to 1976. It includes postcards and fliers documenting Anna Banana's performances and projects, and early copies of the Banana Rag. The correspondence also records submissions that Davi Det made to the publication VILE (1974-1981) that Anna started in 1973 with artist Bill Gaglione in San Francisco. VILE became the prominent vehicle for documenting and extending the mail-art network, and several issues of VILE are part of the Artist Book Collection at V.C.U.
VILE and Banana Rag remained true to the anti-art establishment, anti- consumerist ideals that nurtured the mail-art network This aesthetic called for open invitations to participate, without editorial or curatorial control, offering affordable participation to a diverse international audience of artists who were seeking alternative modes of expression. It served as an important vehicle for the validation and expansion of the networking process. There is a marked difference in the visual presentation of the two publications, revealing two distinctive personality characteristics, alternate methods Anna Banana cites for dealing with the 'real art world.'
"Banana Rag presents the more positive, inviting, creative approach, while VILE was more critical, intellectual, raw, with satire. Also BR is my own voice, and VILE is the unedited version from many, including myself." (Banana, Anna. Personal communication 11 July, 2004)
In 1975 Anna started Banana Productions, a graphic art business which helped to finance Banana Rag (1971 to the present); ArtStamp News (1991-1996), and International Art Post (1988- ) a periodical devoted to editions of artist's stamps. The exchange documented in the Davi Det Hompson Manuscript and Archive Collection serves as an invigorating introduction to Anna Banana and demonstrates how Davi Det supported her projects. Both artists were involved in diverse media and publication projects, making use of current technologies; instant printing, color zerox, and the printing press. They also shared the Mail artists' characteristic of moving off the page into alternative art spaces in order to express to live audiences their aesthetic ideas through poetry, pageantry, and performance activities."Most artists involved in mail art are also involved on a local level, wherever they live, in putting on art events or performances, organizing shows of Mail Art, putting out small publications concerning their activities. They are more interested in and excited about contact from like-minded artists around the world than they are in producing saleable works. They are people who have, perhaps, recognized that the process of doing is more exciting than the products produced." (Anna Banana, VILE, 3(2):i-ii, Summer 1977)
Banana, Anna (2001). Banana and Banana Productions. Retrieved June 12, 2004:
De Decker, Sir Geert (2004). Anna Banana. Retrieved June 12, 2004,
From Sztuka Fabryka Archive: http://www.sztuka-fabryka.be/encyclopaedia/index.htm
Jansen, Ruud (1996-2002). Rudd Jansen with Anna Banana. Retrieved June 14, 2004, From Jas Cyberspace Museum,
Tam Mail-Art Interview Project:
Banana, Anna. "Editorial: Concept Realized, etc."VILE 3 (2): i-ii, Summer 1977.
Crane, Michael and Mary Stofflet, eds. Correspondence Art, Source Book for the
Network of International Postal Art Activity. San Francisco: Contemporary Arts Press, 1984.
"Going Bananas on April Fool's." The San Francisco Bay Guardian 30 March 1978: 21.
Gross, Beatrice. Radical School Reform. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1969.
Who's Who in American Art, 25th edition, 2003-2004. New Providence, New Jersey:
Marquis Who's Who, 2003.
To and From: Davi Det Hompson Correspondents