Ana Mendieta was born in Cuba in 1948. In 1961, at the age of 12, she arrived as a refugee in the United States together with her older sister, sent to that country by their parents, who feared for the safety of their daughters, since their father at the time was against the political system established by Fidel Castro ─although he had initially fought against Fulgencio Batista on Castro’s side and held a position in the Cuban communist regime’s ministry. With no family in the US, the Mendieta sisters spent a difficult six years living in various foster homes, until they were reunited with their mother; they saw their father again in 1979, eighteen years after serving a sentence for treason in a Cuban jail.

Between 1969 and 1977, Ana Mendieta studied at the University of Iowa, where she graduated in Fine Arts and obtained a master’s degree in Art in Multiple Media and Video, belonging to the Multimedia Program created and directed by Hans Breder (1935–2017), German American interdisciplinary artist. This training period in Iowa was very important for Mendieta, for whom Breder, her teacher and tutor, plays a significant role contributing to her initiation into the world of art, orientation, and consolidation of her artistic language with her own voice, an artistic career that she developed between 1970 and 1985, the year of her tragic death, which interrupted her talented creativity and fruitful career.

In her beginnings, Mendieta made figurative painting in the expressionist style, then she conceived abstract images inspired by Mesoamerican art, the result of her archaeological experience with Breder in Teotihuacán, Mexico ─which, by the way, also helped her develop her series “Silueta” (“Silhouette”) between 1973 and 1980. Under the influence of her interdisciplinary tutor, Mendieta decided to abandon traditional art to be more experimental, daring, critical and transgressive, moving from painting to a new artistic practice. Mendieta had experimented with various disciplines, such as painting, sculpture, theater, dance, music, photography, film, and writing, courses that were part of the program organized and directed by Breder, aimed at developing ways of artistic expression of a conceptual nature; From that moment on, Mendieta became aware that traditional media such as painting itself, for example, were not the most appropriate for expressing and transmitting what she really aspired to: “… my paintings were not real enough to what I wanted the images to convey, and by real I mean that I wanted my images to have power…”, the artist stated; that is to say ─we infer─, that they were shocking, disturbing.

1. Ana Mendieta. Glass on body.
Mendieta then considered that her body was the best aesthetic and conceptual tool for her purpose. With her body, as a sculptural instrument or body sculpture, she began to work on contemporary art trends such as multimedia, a procedure in which photographs, audio video images, and text are used; body art and performance, which focus specifically on the human body, reflecting on itself, carrying out its actions through the body itself, whose themes are, particularly, of a social, sexual nature, around violence or of confrontation between the male and female body; and land art, which consists of the realization of artistic work in natural spaces, which are transformed by the artist’s thought and action. In the case of Mendieta, she knew how to combine and melt these tendencies into a single form of visual expression that she called “earth-body”, thus combining art, life and death; time, process, and transience. Art activities of this nature, of bodily and conceptual action, are generally documented for posterity through photographic records, videos, and texts.
2. Ana Mendieta. Autorretrato con sangre.
In her visual production, to which she gave her own voice, Mendieta referred to social, racial, and gender problems, violence against women, rapes, and murders. To represent these themes, she performed crude, violent, provocative performances, such as “Presa de Pollo”, for example, an action performed in front of her fellow students in which the artist holds a decapitated chicken in front of her body, while blood spatters her body and around it, an action that is also attributed a ritualistic connotation associated with Cuban Santeria. She also staged the rape and murder of a young University of Iowa student in her apartment, for which the artist tied herself to a table with her naked body covered in blood, remaining there reclining and motionless until the end of the performance. Her proposals consisting of facial distortions against glass (1) and her bloody face (2), also illustrate violence against female bodies.
3. Ana Mendieta. Silueta en fuego.
Mendieta established a dialogue between nature and her body, alternating her own body silhouette with her body as a sculpture. Between 1973 and 1980 she produced her iconic series of “Silhouettes” in which the artist blended the contour of her body (3) in some cases with natural landscapes, and her naked body (4) in others, using elements such as clay, sand, grass, branches, flowers, feathers, blood, fire, or water. As she was affected by exile from her homeland and separation from her family, she conceived of connecting with the land as a way of identifying herself and resuming her Cuban and Latin American roots.
4. Ana Mendieta. Flowers on Body.
There are scholars of her life and work who associate her tragic death with her works in which she used blood and her own mistreated body as aesthetic elements to denounce violence against women, something like the future announcement of her death, like a premonition. Mendieta and her husband, the minimalist sculptor Carl Andre (1935), who reportedly had a stormy relationship, argued heatedly in the early morning of September 8, after sharing a few drinks, and, later, Mendieta’s body fell out of the window of her apartment, her husband being blamed and arrested for her death. But then, in 1988, Andre was tried and acquitted of Mendieta’s murder, as the judge found him not guilty pleading reasonable doubt.; that is to say, that there was not enough evidence, despite the fact that there was a witness who heard her shout No repeatedly, followed by the blow when the artist’s body fell on the roof of a store, to which is added the scratches she had on her face and arms. Due to the characteristics of her visual production, in the trial they resorted to the presumed mental instability of the artist as evidence to consider her death a suicide, leaving doubt in the opinion of some, in that of others the conviction that it was suicide and in others that of many women ─and men too─ the certainty that it was murder.
Ileana Rincón-Cañas. Thousand ways to die i


Written by José Gregorio Noroño,

 Arte Original.

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