Cuban-born performance artist Ana Mendieta created timeless works that asserted her connection with nature. She is known for her “Silueta (Silhouette) Series“ where she imprinted her own form on sand, rock, and other materials, leaving behind an impression like that of a memory.
Mendieta fled Cuba at the age of twelve and grew up in foster care in the United States. After the 1961 Cuban Revolution, she was living in Iowa where she studied at the University of Iowa earning her B.A., M.A., and M.F.A. degrees. At the university she was exposed to several feminist visiting artists, such as Martha Rosler, who worked with her own body to convey a personal and a political message.
Mendieta 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 body art and performance. In a 1973 staged performance she used her bound and bloodied half-naked body to protest a brutal rape and murder on the campus of the university while she was a student there. She was completely silent throughout the performance which had viewers feel as though they had stumbled upon the aftermath of a crime.
Inspired by Santeria, an Afro-Caribbean religion, which emphasizes immersion in nature, Mendieta produced ritualistic performances on film as well as some 200 earth-and-body works, using earth as her sculptural medium and recording them in color photographs.
Some of Mendieta’s work was made in Mexico and in return trips to Cuba, while other works – such as her “Tree of Life” series – were done in Iowa. In “Tree of Life” Mendieta uses her own body, covered with mud, with arms raised up like a prehistoric goddess. She appeared 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 United States. She was a member for 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 Pindell, was among those who believed that 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. She was awarded the Prix de Rome in 1983. In 1987, there was the first survey exhibition of her work at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York. Her work was exhibited in a retrospective “Ana Mendieta: Earthbound” at the Middelheim Museum, Antwerp in 2019. “La tierra habla (The Earth Speaks) at Galerie Lelong & Co. in Manhattan documents the work she made on her trips back to Cuba. Recently, works from her “Siluetas” series were shown in a new public art space in Oaxaca, Mexico. The show, “Elementos Vitales: Ana Mendieta in Oaxaca,” is the first time these work were on view in the region in which they were created.
Her work is in the collections of the Guggenheim, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Museum of Modern Art, and Centre Pompidou among others.