About us
Artists Ana Mendieta
Ana Mendieta Photo

Ana Mendieta

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

Movements and Styles: Feminist Art, Performance Art, Body Art, Land Art

Born: November 18, 1948 - Havana, Cuba

Died: September 8, 1985 - New York City

Ana Mendieta Timeline

Quotes

"By making my image in nature I can deal with the two cultures. My earth-body sculptures are not the final stage of a ritual but a way and a means of asserting my emotional ties with nature and conceptualizing religion and culture."
Ana Mendieta
"My art is grounded in the belief of one universal energy, which runs through everything: from insect to man, from man to spectre, from spectre to plant, from plant to galaxy. My works are the irrigation veins of this universal fluid. Through them ascend the ancestral sap, the original beliefs, the primordial accumulations, the unconscious thoughts that animate the world."
Ana Mendieta
"My art is the way I re-establish the bonds that unite me to the universe. It is a return to the maternal source. "
Ana Mendieta
"Art is a material act of culture, but its greatest value is its spiritual role, and that influences society, because it's the greatest contribution to the intellectual and moral development of humanity that can be made."
Ana Mendieta
"I have been carrying out a dialogue between the landscape and the female body (based on my own silhouette). I believe this has been a direct result of my having been torn from my homeland (Cuba) during my adolescence. I am overwhelmed by the feeling of having been cast from the womb (nature). My art is the way I re-establish the bonds that unite me to the universe. It is a return to the maternal source."
Ana Mendieta
"The obsessive act of reasserting my ties with the earth is an objectification of my existence."
Ana Mendieta
"Now I believe in water, air, and earth. They are all deities. They also speak. I am connected with the goddess of the sweet water-...it is raining a lot. Those are the things that are powerful and important. I don't know why people have gotten away from these ideas."
Ana Mendieta

"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

Synopsis

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.

Biography

Ana Mendieta Photo

Early Period

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.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Ana Mendieta Biography Continues

Important Art 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)
Artwork Images

Untitled (Facial Hair Transplant) (1972)

Artwork description & Analysis: 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.

Color photograph - Galerie Lelong and Alison Jacques Gallery

Untitled (Rape Scene) (1973)
Artwork Images

Untitled (Rape Scene) (1973)

Artwork description & Analysis: 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.

Color photograph - The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection

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

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

Artwork description & Analysis: 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.

Super-8mm film - The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection

More Ana Mendieta Artwork and Analysis:



By submitting the above you agree to The Art Story privacy policy.

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Ana Mendieta
Interactive chart with Ana Mendieta's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Kara WalkerKara Walker
Hermann NitschHermann Nitsch
Chris BurdenChris Burden
Robert SmithsonRobert Smithson
Vito AcconciVito Acconci

Personal Contacts

Carolee SchneemannCarolee Schneemann

Movements

Viennese ActionismViennese Actionism
FluxusFluxus

Influences on Artist
Ana Mendieta
Ana Mendieta
Years Worked: 1970 - 1985
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Kate GilmoreKate Gilmore
Simone LeighSimone Leigh
Tania BrugueraTania Bruguera

Personal Contacts

Carolee SchneemannCarolee Schneemann
Nancy SperoNancy Spero

Movements

Feminist ArtFeminist Art
Performance ArtPerformance Art
Body ArtBody Art
Land ArtLand Art

Useful Resources on Ana Mendieta

Videos

Books

Articles

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
Where Is Ana Mendieta? Identity, Performativity, and Exile (1999)

By Jane Blocker

Ana Mendieta: Earth Body (2004)

By Olga Viso

Covered in Time and History: The Films of Ana Mendieta (2015)

By Howard Oransky

Ana Mendieta: Traces (2014) Recomended resource

By Julia Bryan-Wilson

More Interesting Books about Ana Mendieta
The Remarkable Story of a Rebel Artist, Her Mysterious Death and Cult Resurgence Recomended resource

By Guelda Voien
Observer
November, 30, 2015

The Life of Forgotten Feminist Artist Ana Mendieta, As Told By Her Sister Recomended resource

By Priscilla Frank
Huffington Post
July, 3, 2016

'...Towards A Personal Will To Continue Being 'Other'': Ana Mendieta's Abject Performances

By Leticia Alvarado
A study of Ana's early and lesser-known 1970s performances

Bloody pleasures: Ana Mendieta's violent tableaux $

By Angelique Szymanek
An examination of the violence portrayed in the artist's work

More Interesting Articles about Ana Mendieta
Untitled aka Body Tracks (Blood Sign #2)

Ana Mendieta performs Body Tracks

Raquel Cecilia Mendieta on Ana Mendieta at Galerie Lelong

Raquel talks about Ana's earlier film pieces

Hayward Gallery Exhibition Trailer: Ana Mendieta, Traces Recomended resource

An overview of Ana's work and an excerpt of an interview with the artist

Annual Stanley and Pearl Goodman Lecture on Latin American Art Recomended resource

Raquel Mendieta delivers a lecture at the NSU Art Museum on Ana Mendieta's films

If you see an error or typo, please:
tell us
Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Alicia Lopez

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Kimberly Nichols

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Alicia Lopez
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Kimberly Nichols
Available from:
[Accessed ]

Did we succeed in explaining the art to you?
If Yes, please tell others about us: