Biography

Ana Mendieta (b. 1948, Havana, Cuba; d. 1985, New York, US) was a Cuban-born American artist renowned for her earth-body works (the ‘Silueta’ series), for which she transposed her silhouette onto rural landscapes as a means to reconnect with the essence of nature. ‘For the images to have magic qualities’, she once said, ‘I had to go to the source of life, to mother nature.’ Born in Havana, Mendieta was exiled to Iowa in 1961 due to her father’s perilous political situation. (In 1960, evidence came to light indicating that her father, Ignacio, had been trained by an FBI informant.) Mendieta would devote her life and work to an exploration of the consequent feelings of cultural displacement and identity, of presence, nature and violence on and of the body.

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Mendieta first began documenting her body in 1971, while studying for an MA at the University of Iowa. She would remove her clothes and lower herself into the earth; she would recreate her body in organic and non-organic materials: stones, soil, grass, flowers, moss, blood. It was during this period that she formulated her earliest earth-body work, Untitled (Grass on Woman) (1972), while also staging performances that tested the relationship between her own body and the bodies of others. Blood + Feathers (1974), which saw Mendieta strip naked and douse herself in the titular components, referenced the rituals of Santería, an Afro-American religion practised in Cuba; for Untitled (Facial Cosmetic Variations), Mendieta transferred the cut beard of a friend onto her own face. As one of the few women at Iowa, these early experiments established Mendieta as an outsider: ‘I really would get it,’ she recalled. ‘The men were into conceptual art and doing things that were very clean.’1

Mendieta did not utilise these ‘unclean’ materials in order to elicit revulsion. ‘I’m not interested in the formal qualities of my materials,’ she once said, ‘but their emotional and sensual ones.’2 Working directly with her own body, Mendieta found that she was able to complicate the seemingly irreconcilable binaries that often define a life: birth/death, nature/nurture, female/male, subject/object. And these were binaries that, while deeply personal to Mendieta, were universally recognisable. ‘The viewer of my work may or may not have had the same experience as myself’, she noted, ‘But perhaps my images can lead the audience to [speculate] on their own experiences.’3

In Mendieta’s eyes, this world was natural before anything else. ‘I become an extension of nature’, she noted, ‘and nature becomes an extension of my body.’4 It was within nature’s bounty that she was able to reconnect with her past and her present, while also contemplating the infinitude of the future. In 1973, for what she would later define as the first Silueta, Mendieta climbed into a Zapotec tomb in Oaxaca and lay naked amongst the foliage. But while Mendieta’s appreciation of the natural might be seen as comparable to that of such notable male land artists as Michael Heizer and Robert Smithson (Mendieta was included in the exhibition, ‘Earth Art, at Cornell University in 1969), hers diverges in its consideration of the spiritual and anthropomorphic. As Jane Blocker notes in Where Is Ana Mendieta? (1990): ‘To anthropomorphize the earth is to endow it with sentience, desire, and identity; it is to think of earth as more than merely a sculptural material.’5

If not a sculptural material, then a restorative one, ‘My art is grounded in the belief of one universal energy which runs through everything […] There is above all the search for origin.’6 For Mendieta, this search engendered numerous works that considered exile and separation, something undoubtedly related to her personal history of emigration. In 1981, she executed the best known of her sculptural works, the Rupestrian Sculptures, in and around a large cave in the Escaleras de Jaruco, Havana. As Blocker notes, it is difficult to look at Isla, from the Silueta series, which features an elongated female figure carved out of the mud of a shallow Iowa creek, and not think of Isla de Cuba. Just as the figure exists as a displaced maquette of Mendieta’s distant homeland, so too does it come to represent a solitudinous female body lain in exile – indeed, a symbol for femininity’s enduring exile.

  1. Stephanie Rosenthal, ‘Traces’ in Ana Mendieta: Traces (London: Hayward Publishing, 2013)
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Sulfur 22, ed. Clayton Eshleman (Michigan: Ypsilanti, 1988)
  5. Jane Blocker, Where Is Ana Mendieta? (Durham: Duke University Press Books, 1999)
  6. Ibid.

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Works

Untitled (Grass on Woman), 1972

Five colour photographs
Individual, unframed: 40.6 x 50.8 cm (16 x 20 in)
© The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC. Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Untitled (Chicken Piece), 1972

Super-8 colour, silent film transferred to DVD
Running time: 6 minutes, 20 seconds
Courtesy: © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC. Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Sweating Blood, 1973

Super-8mm film transferred to high-definition digital media, colour, silent
Running time: 3:18 minutes
Courtesy: © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC. Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Untitled, 1973

6 black and white photographs
each: 40.6 x 50.8 cm (16 x 20 in); each, framed: 57 x 73 cm (22 1/2 x 28 3/4 in); overall: 119 x 233 cm (46 7/8 x 91 3/4 in)
Courtesy: © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC. Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Door Piece, 1973

Super-8mm film transferred to high-definition digital media, colour, silent
Running time: 3:20 minutes
Courtesy: © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC. Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Flower Person, Flower Body, 1975

Colour photograph
40.6 x 50.8 cm (16 x 20 in)
Courtesy: © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC. Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Butterfly, 1975

Super-8mm film transferred to high-definition digital media, colour, silent
Running time: 3:19 minutes
Courtesy: © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC. Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Anima, Silueta de Cohetes (Firework Piece), 1976

Super-8mm colour, silent film transferred to DVD
Running time: 2 minutes, 22 seconds
Courtesy: © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC. Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Untitled: Silueta Series (Figure with Hay Burned), 1977

Colour photograph
framed: 46.3 x 39 cm (18 1/4 x 15 3/8 in)
Courtesy: © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC. Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Silueta Series (Tree of Life Series), 1978

Colour photograph
Framed: 45.7 x 62.9 cm (18 x 24 3/4 in)
© The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC. Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Untitled (Silueta Series), c. 1978

Colour photograph
20.3 x 25.4 cm (8 x 10 in)
Courtesy: © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC. Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Volcán, 1979

Super-8mm film transferred to high-definition digital media, color, silent
Running time: 3:11 minutes
Courtesy: © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC. Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Volcán, 1979

Six colour photographs
Individual, unframed: 40.6 x 50.8 cm (16 x 20 in)
© The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC. Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Gunpowder Silueta (Fundamento Palo Monte), 1980

Black and white photograph
20.3 x 25.4 cm (8 x 10 in)
Courtesy: © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC. Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

La Venus Negra (The Black Venus), 1981

Black and white photograph
99.7 x 135.9 cm (39 1/4 x 53 1/2 in)
Courtesy: © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC. Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Birth (Gunpowder Works), 1981

Super-8mm film transferred to high-definition digital media, black and white, silent
Running time: 2:59 minutes
Courtesy: © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC. Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Untitled, 1981

Colour photograph
50.8 x 40.6 cm (20 x 16 in)
Courtesy: © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC. Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Untitled, c.1981–84

Graphite on paper
Unframed: 33.0 x 21.3 cm (13 x 8 3/8 in); framed: 36.7 x 48.8 cm (14 1/2 x 19 1/4 in)
© The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC. Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Untitled, c.1983–84

Ink on paper
Unframed: 33 x 21.3 cm (13 x 8 1/2 in); framed: 48.9 x 36.2 x 3.2 cm (19 1/4 x 14 1/4 x 1 1/4 in)
© The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC. Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Untitled, c.1984–85

Graphite on paper
Unframed: 33 x 21.6 cm (13 x 8 1/2 in); framed: 36.7 x 48.8 cm (14 1/2 x 19 1/4 in)
© The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC. Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

  • Untitled (Grass on Woman), 1972
  • Untitled (Chicken Piece), 1972
  • Sweating Blood, 1973
  • Untitled, 1973
  • Door Piece, 1973
  • Flower Person, Flower Body, 1975
  • Butterfly, 1975
  • Anima, Silueta de Cohetes (Firework Piece), 1976
  • Untitled: Silueta Series (Figure with Hay Burned), 1977
  • Silueta Series (Tree of Life Series), 1978
  • Untitled (Silueta Series), c. 1978
  • Volcán, 1979
  • Volcán, 1979
  • Gunpowder Silueta (Fundamento Palo Monte), 1980
  • La Venus Negra (The Black Venus), 1981
  • Birth (Gunpowder Works), 1981
  • Untitled, 1981
  • Untitled, c.1981–84
  • Untitled, c.1983–84
  • Untitled, c.1984–85

Press

The Most Influential Latin American Artists of the 20th Century

Alex Santana, Artsy

November 2019

Connecting to the Earth

Sophie Rose, ArtAsiaPacific

March 2019

Woman as Tree Tree as Woman

Hettie Judah, The Plant

December 2018

Review: Ana Mendieta, Jeu de Paume

Ginevra Bria, Domus

November 2018

Overlooked No More

Monica Castillo, The New York Times

September 2018

Refusing to Look Away from Violence

Olivia Laing, frieze

August 2018

The Disappearing Acts of Ana Mendieta

Rebecca O’Dwyer, Apollo

June 2018

Beyond Boundaries, in the Midst of Radical Change

Stephanie Rosenthal and Clare Molloy, Berliner Festspiele

June 2018

Covered in Time and History: The Films of Ana Mendieta

Joan Lee, This Is Tomorrow

May 2018

Ana Mendieta Fought for Women’s Rights and Paid with Blood

Miss Rosen, Vice

April 2018

Ana Mendieta: Artist or Martyr?

Rosanna Mclaughlin, ArtReview

April 2018

Fully Loaded

Johanna Fateman, Artforum

January 2018

The Life Of Ana Mendieta, Told By Her Sister

Priscilla Frank, Huffington Post

March 2016

A Word With: Raquelin Mendieta

Randy Kennedy, The New York Times

February 2016

There Was Blood

R.C. Baker, The Village Voice

February 2016

Bodily Rites

Ara Osterweil, Artforum

November 2015

Review: Ana Mendieta, Traces

Mary Mattingly, The Brooklyn Rail

May 2014

The Haunting Traces of Ana Mendieta

Priscilla Frank, Huffington Post

April 2014

The Untold: Ana Mendieta

Ryann Donnelly, Art in America

October 2013

Blurring Boundaries of the Self

Rachel Spence, Financial Times

October 2013

Review: Ana Mendieta, Hayward Gallery

Mark Brown, The Guardian

September 2013

Review: Body I Am, Alison Jacques Gallery

Cherry Smyth, Art Monthly

March 2013

Review: Silueta and Silence, Alison Jacques Gallery

Josh Spero, The Arts Desk

February 2010

Review: Ana Mendieta and Hans Breder, Galerie Lelong

Jeffery Kastner, Artforum

April 2008

Exhibitions

Ana Mendieta: Metamorphosis

25 May24 June 2017

Books

Ana Mendieta, La tierra habla (The Earth Speaks)

Galerie Lelong & Co.

2019

Covered in Time and History: The Films of Ana Mendieta

Katherine E. Nash Gallery in association with University of California Press

2015

Ana Mendieta: Traces

Hayward Publishing

2013

Ana Mendieta: She Got Love

Skira

2013

Unseen Mendieta

Olga Viso

2008

Ana Mendieta: Earth Body

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

2004

News

Ana Mendieta

in ‘Zin Ex: Body and Architecture’, Tabakalera, International Centre for Contemporary Culture, San Sebastián

Ana Mendieta

in ‘ECLIPSE’, 7th Athens Biennale, Athens, Greece

Ana Mendieta

in ‘The Earth, That Is Sufficient’, Nicola Vassell Gallery, New York

Ana Mendieta & Lenore Tawney

in ‘Never Done: 100 Years of Women in Politics and Beyond’, The Tang Museum, Saratoga Springs, New York

Ana Mendieta: Suspended Fire

Denver Art Museum

Detail: Ana Mendieta, Silueta Works in Mexico, 1973-77 © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC.⁣⁣⁣

Ana Mendieta

in ‘Beyond Infinity: Contemporary Art After Kusama’, ICA, Boston

Ana Mendieta: Blood Inside Outside

Baltimore Museum of Art

Ana Mendieta & Hannah Wilke

in ‘Idea Art’, MoMA New York

Robert Mapplethorpe & Ana Mendieta

in ‘Masculinities: Liberation Through Photography’, Barbican, London

Ana Mendieta

in ‘Counter-Landscapes’, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

Ana Mendieta

in ‘Artistic License’, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Birgit Jürgenssen, Ana Mendieta & Hannah Wilke

in ‘FEMINISMS!’, Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona

Lygia Clark, Fernanda Gomes, Ana Mendieta & Michelle Stuart

in ‘The Sensation of Space’, The Warehouse, Dallas

Ana Mendieta

in ‘Five Artists: Sites Encountered’, M+, Hong Kong

Ana Mendieta: Earthbound

Middelheim Museum, Belgium

Installation view: Ana Mendieta in 'Unsettled | Art on the New Frontier', Palm Springs Art Museum, Nevada. Image courtesy Palm Springs Museum of Art.

Ana Mendieta

in ‘Unsettled: Art on the New Frontier’, Palm Springs Art Museum, Nevada

Ana Mendieta & Michelle Stuart

in ‘A Body Measured Against the Earth’, MCA Chicago

Ana Mendieta, Sweating Blood, 1973. Courtesy the Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, Galerie Lelong, New York © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC

Ana Mendieta: Covered in Time and History

Jeu de Paume, Paris

Ana Mendieta: Covered in Time and History

Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin

Ana Mendieta & Hannah Wilke

in ‘Delirious’, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Lygia Clark & Ana Mendieta

in ‘Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985’, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles

Ana Mendieta: Silueta Sangrienta

Colby Museum of Art, Maine

Ana Mendieta: Traces

Museum der Moderne Salzburg