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Ana Mendieta

Cuban-American Performance Artist, Sculptor, Painter, Photographer and Video Artist

Ana Mendieta Photo
Movements and Styles: Feminist Art, Performance Art, Body Art, Earth Art

Born: November 18, 1948 - Havana, Cuba

Died: September 8, 1985 - New York City

"I decided that for the images to have magic qualities I had to work directly with nature. I had to go to the source of life, to mother earth."

Ana Mendieta Signature

Summary of Ana Mendieta

Ana Mendieta's short life was a study in displacement and its effects on a person's soul - both positive and negative. From her early years when she was separated from her Cuban family to become an adopted refugee in America throughout her adolescent years when she felt like an outsider growing up in the Midwest, the young artist felt an ever-present disconnection from the concepts of mother, place, identity, belonging, and home. For 15 of her 37 years, she explored this ache through her work, which was primarily performance, photography, and film-based. She aimed to jostle the nonchalance of people in ways that would provoke them to connect with each other more authentically, to understand that they were essentially one within humanity, and that the earth was the supreme mother to all. She wanted to pierce the veils of perceived difference in many spheres including gender, race, and geography and asked us to perceive our own indifference to more unsettling things within our midst such as prejudice and violence. The ongoing dialogue between her own body and the landscape regarding presence, absence, and the inevitable cycles within nature and life would come to be seen as an eerie foretelling of her tragic end when she fell from the window of an apartment building. However, Mendieta's impact remains, much like the images she made, stained in the psyche, asking us to consider the spiritual, ethereal, and physical connections present in our own thirst for being.

Key Ideas

Mendieta was a key figure in the Body art movement that emerged from the Performance art movement. Her sustained use of the body's simplified and often nude form to depict both presence and its opposite, absence is an essential component to her work whether denoting the human or the ethereal.
Mendieta is recognized as an important contributor to Land art, a movement in which landscape and the work of art are inextricably linked, taking the possibilities of art outside gallery confines. She used the natural environment as a perpetual setting throughout her career, most memorably in her earth-works such as Siluetas, which were created in various natural locations with particular meaning to the artist and adorned with elements indigenous to the areas.
Merging with the earth not only became a mark-making process for Mendieta, but also a metaphorical return to mother and ritualistic homage to a universally generic, feminine earth goddess. In the end, the land was perhaps her greatest collaborator, helping her express the body's place within the world and its relationship to nature.
Mendieta is also oftentimes connected with the Feminist art movement for her work on the fluidity of gender and the manipulation of her own body parts to blur the line between male/female identification. But also, she often embraced her own feminine spirit and feminine mysticism in her work, unapologetically and with copious amounts of joy.
The consistent use of blood and other organic material such as feathers, rocks, flowers, fire, and the earth reflect Mendieta's passion for religious ritual. She was especially inspired by the strain of Cuban Catholicism known as Santeria. Much of her artwork materialized as a sort of rite, orchestrated to articulate the perpetual cycles of life, death, womanhood, rebirth, and renewal.
Because of her early displacement from family and home and the trauma that produced in her early life, Mendieta became a lifelong champion of the marginalized or minoritized whether by racism, sexism, or geography. Much of the passion that went into making her work was stoked by a desire to have everybody recognize those considered "other bodies" and to accept humanity as one throbbing whole rather than a world of disjointed individuals.
Violence remains a mysterious ingredient in Mendieta's legacy. Themes of domestic violence, of turning a blind eye to violence, and forced participation in witnessing violence can all be found as a parallel strain to her more earth, feminine, nature-inspired pieces. Although never really answered, this preoccupation beats below the surface and has raised many questions over the years within fans, critics, and her own personal friends about whether or not Mendieta had personal experience of abuse especially, most poignantly, in regards to the way her life tragically ended.
Ana Mendieta Photo

Ana Mendieta was born in 1948 in Havana, Cuba. When she was a mere 12, she was sent to America along with her sister Raquelin as part of the Peter Pan operation, a government-sponsored project for Cuban children to flee Fidel Castro's dictatorship. The project conveyed over 14,000 minors to the United States between 1960 and 1962, operating under the radar out of fear that it would be seen as an anti-Castro political undertaking. The refugee sisters spent some time in Florida before being sent to Iowa, where they lived in foster homes and were enrolled in reform school.

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