Ana Mendieta


Ana Mendieta : biography

18 November 1948 – 08 September 1985

Silueta Series (1973-1980)

When she began her "Silueta Series" in the 1970s, Mendieta was one of many artists experimenting with the emerging genres of land art, body art, and performance art. Mendieta was possibly the first to combine these genres in what she called "earth-body" sculptures (Jacob 1999, p. 3). She often used her naked body to explore and connect with the Earth, as seen in her piece Mendieta’s first use of blood to make art dates from 1972, when she performed Untitled (Death of a Chicken), for which she stood naked in front of a white wall holding a freshly decapitated chicken by its feet as its blood spattered her naked body. Tate Modern, London. Appalled by the brutal rape and murder of nursing student Sara Ann Otten at the University of Iowa, Mendieta smeared herself with blood and had herself tied to a table in 1973, inviting an audience in to bear witness.Kay Larson (February 16, 2001), New York Times. In a slide series, People Looking at Blood Moffitt (1973), she pours blood and rags on a sidewalk and photographs a seemingly endless stream of people walking by without stopping, until the man next door (the storefront window bears the name H. F. Moffitt) comes out to clean it up.Kay Larson (February 16, 2001), New York Times.

Mendieta also created the female silhouette using nature as both her canvas and her medium. She used her body to create silhouettes in grass; she created silhouettes in sand and dirt; she created silhouettes of fire and filmed them burning. Untitled (Ochún) (1981), named for the Santería goddess of waters, once pointed southward from the shore at Key Biscayne, Florida. Ñañigo Burial (1976), with a title taken from the popular name for an Afro-Cuban religious brotherhood, is a floor installation of black candles dripping wax in the outline of the artist’s body.Leslie Camhi (June 20, 2004), New York Times. Through these works, which cross the boundaries of performance, film and photography, Mendieta explored her relationship with place as well as a larger relationship with mother Earth or the "Great Goddess" figure (Blocker 1999, p. 47-48).

Mary Jane Jacob suggests in her book Ana Mendieta: The "Silueta" Series (1973-1980) that much of Mendieta’s work was influenced by her interest in the religion Santería, as well as a connection to Cuba (Jacob 1991, p. 4). Jacob attributes Mendieta’s "ritualistic use of blood" (Jacob 1991, p. 10) and the use of gunpowder, earth and rock to Santería’s ritualistic traditions (Jacob 1991, p. 17).

Jacob also points out the significance of the mother figure, referring to the Mayan deity Ix Chel, the mother of the Gods (Jacob 1991, p. 14). Many have interpreted Mendieta’s recurring use of this mother figure, and her own female silhouette, as feminist art. However, because Mendieta’s work explores many ideas including life, death, identity and place all at once, it cannot be categorized as part of one idea or movement.

Photo Etchings of the Rupestrian Sculptures (1981)

As documented in the book Ana Mendieta: A Book of Works, edited by Bonnie Clearwater, before her death, Mendieta was working on a series of photo-etchings of cave sculptures she had created at Escaleras de Jaruco, Jaruco State Park in Havana, Cuba (Clearwater 1993, p. 11). Her sculptures were entitled Rupestrian Sculptures (1981) – the title refers to living among rocksWilliam Wilson (February 18, 1998), Los Angeles Times. – and the book of photographic etchings that Mendieta was creating to preserve these sculptures is a testament to the intertextuality of Mendieta’s work. Clearwater explains how the photographs of Mendieta’s sculptures were often as important as the piece they were documenting because the nature of Mendieta’s work was so impermanent. Mendieta spent as much time and thought on the creation of the photographs as she did on the sculptures themselves (Clearwater 1993, p. 11).

Mendieta returned to Havana, Cuba, the place of her birth birth for this project, but she was still exploring her sense of displacement and loss, according to Clearwater (Clearwater 1993, p. 18). The Rupestrian Sculptures that Mendieta created were also influenced by the Tainan people, "native inhabitants of the pre-hispanic Antilles," which Mendieta became fascinated by and studied (Clearwater 1993, p. 12).

Mendieta had completed five photo-etchings of the Rupestrian Sculptures before she died in 1985. The book Ana Mendieta: A Book of Works, published in 1993, contains both photographs of the sculptures as well as Mendieta’s notes on the project (Clearwater 1993, p. 20).

Body Tracks (1982)

Body Tracks (Rastros Corporales) are long, blurry marks that Mendieta’s hands and forearms made as they slid down a large piece of white paper during a performance heightened with pulsing Cuban music.Cathy Curtis (March 20, 1989), Los Angeles Times.