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Ana Mendieta Artworks

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

Artworks by Ana Mendieta

The below artworks are the most important by Ana Mendieta - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Untitled (Facial Hair Transplant) (1972)

In 1972, Mendieta recruited a fellow Iowa University student to help her create Untitled (Facial Hair Transplant). Mendieta asked the student to trim his beard so that she could collect the trimmings and then carefully glue them onto her own face - a process that was fully documented. The resulting photographs can be situated in the artist's early stream of body alteration pieces, which also includes a series of images in which she distorted her body parts by smashing them into panes of glass and another series in which she transformed her appearance using makeup and wigs. Untitled (Facial Hair Transplant) is a blatant manipulation that evinces the artist's interest in the fluidity of her body and its gender identification.

The subversive self-portrait distorts notions of beauty while calling gender constructs into question. The applied mustache is unsettlingly convincing, and the piece is lent even more power due to its curiously indeterminate nature. Mendieta unapologetically shows viewers the process of her transformation and is intentional in her effort to upset gender expectations. This piece also highlights Mendieta's curiosity with organic materials such as hair, a material that is both growing and dead, very much our own and yet easily severed from our bodies.

Untitled (Rape Scene) (1973)

A few years into her studies at the University of Iowa, while Mendieta was enrolled in Hans Breder's Intermedia Art course, a fellow student named Sara Ann Ottens was brutally raped and killed. In response to the incident, and as a vehicle to express the horror of male sexual violence, Mendieta staged a poignant and shocking performance.

She invited students and professors to stop by her apartment at a given time. As soon as the unsuspecting visitors walked through her door, they encountered Mendieta's bloody, naked form tied to the living room table. Mendieta had carefully recreated the scene of Ottens' murder as was reported by the police. Years later, Mendieta recalled that her audience "all sat down, and started talking about it" while she "stayed in position about an hour." The interaction between artist and attendees became a cathartic way for the community to dialogue and process the horror that had happened in its midst - an example of performance art's ability to compel participation within the viewer as part of the overall experience.

The existing documentation of this piece is a harsh one: a jolting photograph showcasing the disheveled apartment, a battered wooden table and the artist's body, bent at a right angle and covered in blood dripping down her bare legs. With this piece Mendieta started to realize the power of her own body as both subject and object in her artwork, a revelation that allowed her to evocatively denounce sexual abuse and violence.

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Untitled (People Looking at Blood, Moffitt) (1973)

Later that same year, Mendieta worked with blood as her primary material once again. In Untitled (People Looking at Blood, Moffit), she spread animal blood and viscera on the sidewalk outside her house, so that it looked to passersby as if the blood were leaking out from under her closed doorway. Incognito and across the street, the artist then surreptitiously captured people as they walked by the macabre pool of gore, most of whom spared it no more than a passing glance. The resulting images are a series of slides and a Super-8 film that document these strangers' detachment to violence.

Much of Mendieta's career has been obscured by her death, and this piece in particular is tempting to read through the lens of her terrible demise. The mysterious circumstances of Mendieta's death pose the possibility that she was victim of domestic abuse that might've gone as unaddressed as the stream of blood in this image. It is not enough, however, to consider this piece as a mere omen of what was to come for Mendieta. People Looking at Blood, Moffitt was an innovative and incendiary film that revealed our readiness to ignore everyday signs of violence - a common thread in Mendieta's oeuvre in which she persistently tried to get people to see "other bodies" as their own. Her empathy toward the disenfranchised, minority, orphaned, abused, violated, and simply different was something she strived to convey through works such as this.

Untitled (Image from Yagul) (1973)

Mendieta's work on her Silueta series (Spanish for "silhouette") in the 1970s established her among the ranks of artists exploring the emerging genres of Land art, Body art, and Performance art. Her "earth-body" series put her at the forefront of this experimentation with pieces that were some of the first within the art world to blur the boundaries between performance, film, and photography. Mendieta unraveled her relationship to the Earth and to her femininity by creating imprints of her naked body on the land in places she held especially dear, such as Cuba, Mexico, and Iowa. She would then remove herself and denote the resulting outline, or silhouette, with specific colors or materials that would evoke these places of personal identification.

In one of her best-known pieces, entitled Imagen de Yagul, the artist uncommonly remains in the resulting photograph lying in a Zapotec tomb, her nude body covered with white flowers. The foliage that obscures Mendieta's face and seems to grow from her body turns her unclothed form into both a lifeless corpse and a place of great fecundity. Mendieta's use of the abstracted feminine form that has become fused with the landscape may also denote her finally finding home in the more universal Mother Earth and an acceptance of the cycles of life and death. It also eloquently speaks to her concerns surrounding belonging and rootedness, and an underlying reliance on her female mysticism.

Untitled (Blood and Feathers #2) (1974)

Untitled (Blood and Feathers #2) is a three and a half minute Super-8 film accompanied by 35mm slides documenting a performance undertaken by the artist while she was a graduate student. It shows Mendieta standing naked in front of a flowing creek, looking directly at the camera while pouring blood out of a flask and down the front of her body. She then reaches behind her, pours the remaining blood down her back, and casts the empty container aside. The artist then falls into a heap of white feathers and slowly rolls around as they adhere to her bloodied form. The film ends with Mendieta standing slowly, her arms bent to resemble wings - a position she holds for the final moments of the film.

This environment of the piece - the flowing creek in an unpopulated spot of nature - and its use of elemental materials - the blood, the feathers, the naked female body - are reminiscent of religious rituals. Blood is central to Catholic rites, the religion in which Mendieta was raised, and the sacrifice of animals is a vital part of Santeria, an Afro-Caribbean religion the artist would draw on for inspiration repeatedly.

Blood and Feathers hints at a self-flagellating type of renewal often practiced by devotees in faiths where bloodletting equals cleansing or purification. It also presents the idea that as one life becomes sacrificed, another more pure one may emerge. The consistency of this sort of physical transformation in Mendieta's work from female to bird, or female back to raw form, shows an impetus within the artist to transcend the physical limitations of the body toward a more spiritual existence.

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Untitled (Siluetas Series) (1976)

Mendieta once said about her artwork: "I have thrown myself into the very elements that produced me." This sentiment is most pointedly expressed through her Siluetas series. In this particular piece, the artist created an outline of her body on the beach at La Ventosa, Mexico and filled the imprint with red tempera. As the tide rose and the ocean waves washed over it, the shape gradually eroded away and the color dissipated into the sea until finally, nothing remained.

The powerful work washed away all evidence of the artist's presence. In doing so, it evoked the cycles of life, of birth and death, and of coming from and returning to the womb/earth - or simply, that unexplained spiritual place of vast mystery paid homage to in ritual such as this performance.

Untitled (1976)

In this photo, we see a stone niche high in the walls of a Mexican monastery complex called Cuilapan de Guerrero that frames a chilling, ghost-like white figure smeared with what at first glance we intuit as blood. Upon closer look, we find the form is the artist wrapped in a white sheet, the front of her body creating a red stain on the fabric. The figure could be a robed Madonna, but the red, skeletal imprint unsettles these associations and reveals Mendieta's interest in indigenous religious practices such as human sacrifice. Mendieta was highly critical of the historical imposition of Catholicism upon indigenous peoples. This piece signifies her criticism by subverting this convent's history of evangelization through positioning her ritualistic piece within the hallowed vaulted alcove meant to display Catholic religious figures. The piece also evinces Mendieta's interest in the roots of Cuban Santeria - a time during which black slaves masked their "Santero" divinities under Catholic names so that they could worship without the fear of punishment at the hand of slave owners.

Guabancex, Goddess of Wind (1981- 85)

By 1978 Mendieta's Siluetas and films had given way to a body of work consisting of forms carved into rock, made from sand, or etched into clay. She created a series of these works while in Cuba in 1981, and collectively entitled the pieces Esculturas Rupestres (rock sculptures). She chose naturally formed grottos in a national park outside of Havana where pre-Hispanic peoples once lived as the setting for these abstract, spiritual figures. Each was representative of, and named after, a goddess from the Taino or Ciboney cultures such as Iyare the Mother, Maroya the Moon, and Guanaroca the First Woman.

According to the scholar Maria del Mar Lopez-Cabrales, these works "show a strong consciousness of gender," and are in "union with the rest of the women on the earth and the Taino feminine deities." Mendieta emphasized the figures' genitals in an overt reference to the fertility and sexuality of the goddesses and attempted to fuse her artwork with its surroundings much like in her prior Siluetas, so that the figures would feel like natural extensions of their environments.

Mendieta meant for these pieces to be discovered by park-goers, but most of the etchings have disappeared and only photographic evidence of them remains.

Related Artists and Major Works

Chalk Mirror Displacement (1969)

Artist: Robert Smithson (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

Smithson began making the Mirror Displacement series shortly after his Site/Non-Site works. While the Site pieces generally used material from outside the gallery - rocks, rubble - which was piled in low containers, the Mirror Displacements saw the materials simply dumped in heaps on the floor and divided up by mirrors. And while the Site pieces always contained a component situated in the gallery, the Mirror Displacement pieces were sometimes situated outside - as was this example, which was set up in Oxted Quarry in England. Smithson described the difference between the two kinds of work: "In other Non-sites, the container was rigid, the material amorphous. In this case, the container is amorphous, the mirror is the rigid thing." As in the Site series, Smithson was preoccupied with the way material, or another site, might be represented; might the materials in the Displacement be thought to "mirror" their presence elsewhere?

Hand/Heart for Ana Mendieta (1986)

Artist: Carolee Schneemann (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

Schneemann created this work as a multi-media homage to her friend and colleague, artist Ana Mendieta. Schneemann based the work on a dream she had about Mendieta right after her death from falling from an apartment window during a fight with her boyfriend artist Carl Andre (it is not clear whether Mendieta fell or was pushed). Upon waking from the dream, Schneemann first ran into the snow, then returned inside and started making drawings of the image from the dream - "Ana's hands falling in empty space." She saw the hand gestures form hearts, and then saw herself drenched in red paint that became blood. The dream was choreographed into a performance in which Schneemann etched the heart shapes into the snow with her bare hands, using paint, blood, ashes, and syrup. A photographer who specialized in photographing accidents recorded the performance, and the action persists in the photographs that make the central panel of the triptych. The hands and the red hearts of this panel echo Mendieta's piece Blood Sign 2 where Mendieta smeared blood onto a wall with her hands. The side panels consist of painted images that echo the hand/heart theme of the performance and demonstrate Schneemann's continued dedication to painting.

Shoot (1971)

Artist: Chris Burden (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

Shoot is the piece for which Burden is infamously known. He asked a friend to shoot him with a .22 rifle from a distance of 15 feet. The bullet was originally supposed to nick the side of Burden's arm, but the shooter was slightly off target and the bullet went through the arm instead. This piece presented exactly what happens when a person is shot so that the audience could experience it in person, and not just in a detached setting such as watching the television while sitting comfortably on the couch. The viewer can only recoil in shock at realizing that an actual person was just shot in front of them. In describing the piece, Burden stated that "it was really disgusting, and there was a smoking hole in my arm." This work also poses questions about the nature of power and following orders, a theme especially indicated by the imperative of the title Shoot, itself. To what extent are we required to follow orders? What are the boundaries between rules and responsibility to fellow human beings? Burden's work was also a way of re-sensitizing people to the violence that had become less and less shocking due to its prevalence in the news. Finally, in addition to challenging the art world's traditional preference for the "fine art" of painting, for example, what Burden really seemed to be challenging was himself and his own dedication to his art. One cannot argue that someone who so consistently put himself in physical and mortal danger for his work was not completely dedicated to his art: in fact, Burden said that one of the reasons he performed Shoot was so that he would be taken seriously as an artist.

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