Cuban-born Ana Mendieta, known for her 1970s “Silhouette” series, celebrated the idea that women have a deeper identification with nature than men do. By 1972 Mendieta rejected painting in order to devote herself to performance and body art. Inspired by Santeria, an Afro-Caribbean religion, which emphasizes immersion in nature, she produced ritualistic performances on film, as well as some 200 earth-and-body works, called ‘Silhouettes’, where she used earth as a sculptural medium and which she recorded in color photographs.
Some of her work was made in Mexico, while other works such as her “Tree of Life” series was done in Iowa, where she lived and studied – earning her B.A., M.A., and M.F.A. at the University of Iowa after the 1961 Cuban Revolution. In this series, Mendieta stands covered with mud, her arms upraised like a prehistoric goddess, appearing at one with nature, her “maternal source.”
She moved to New York and in 1978 joined the Artists in Residence, Inc. Gallery, the first gallery for women in the U.S. She was a member for about four years and in 1980 curated the show, “Dialectics of Isolation: An Exhibition of Third World Women Artists of the United States.” However, she resigned from A.I.R. in 1982 after a dispute instigated by her husband, artist Carl Andre. She also felt that A.I.R. as a mainstream Feminist Movement had “failed to remember” its nonwhite counterparts and their struggle with issues of race, gender, and class .
Her untimely death, falling from a window, was thought to be suspicious. Artist and friend, Howardina Lindell, is among those who believe Mendieta was killed by Andre. Talking about her portrayal of Mendieta in one of her own paintings, Pindell states, “It reminded me of when she was pushed out of the window, of the line that would be drawn around the body where it fell.”
In 1979, Mendieta had a solo exhibition at A.I.R. Gallery. In 1987 there was the first survey exhibition of her work at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York. Her work is in the collections of the Guggenheim, Metropolitan Museum, Whitney Museum,, MoMA, and Centre Pompidou among others.