Who Was Ana?

Ana Mendieta was a Cuban American artist active in the 1970’s and 80’s up until her tragic death in 1985. (1) She is best known for her Silueta series of earth-body works. Earth-body being a term she used to describe her work (2). She worked in the mediums of sculpture, photography, videography, drawing and performance. She is considered to have been a significant part of the feminist art movement and worked vehemently to increase women’s inclusion in the arts. She created many artworks using her body and elements of the earth for materials. Her work largely surrounded themes of cultural displacement and diaspora, and spiritual representations of birth, burial and regeneration.  Through her artwork she explored and documented spirituality, sexuality and feminist consciousness, as well as the constructing and deconstructing of identities.

Ana Mendieta was born to Ignacio and Raquel Mendieta in Havana, Cuba on the 18th of November in 1948. (3) She was born into a family of wealth and political prominence. However, as Cuba became increasingly affiliated with communism her father grew increasingly and openly opposed to Fidel Castro. (4) Because of his open opposition, as well as government suspicion that he aided in the Bay of Pigs invasion, he was arrested and sentenced to 20 years in jail. At the dawn of the Fidel Castro’s Communist Revolution, Ana was brought to the United States on September 11, 1961 with her sister Raquelín and thousands of other children through Operation Pedro Pan. (3) The sisters were separated and Ana traveled from age 12 through multiple foster homes, orphanages and institutions in Iowa before ultimately arriving at the University of Iowa. (5) At the University of Iowa, Ana earned a BA and MFA in Painting, as well as an MFA in Intermedia in 1977.

While at the university she traveled for the first time to Oaxaca, Mexico in 1971 and began to form her series of earth works. (3) The rape and death of a fellow student in 1973 deeply impacted and influenced her and in 1974 she began to experiment in performance, for which she often used blood as a material.  Although at this point in her career she worked primarily in performance, she rejected the label of performance artist. She rejected this label because she considered her work to be more of an ongoing dialogue solely between herself and nature that didn’t require an audience or prescribe to a moment in time. (6) In the summer of 1975, she returned to Mexico and began her series of Siluetas, arguably her most famous and highly regarded works. In these earth-body pieces, she experimented with a dialogue between her body and nature. She employed elements of fire, water, stones and dirt and experimented with creating imprints and representations of her body in order to document the interaction of the female body with the earth.

In 1978, Ana relocated to New York City where she connected with many feminist artists of the time, some of which she had previously met and interacted with. In New York, she joined the AIR Gallery on Wooster Street, the first gallery solely for women in the US. Shortly thereafter in 1979, she met minimalist sculptor, Carl Andre who would become her husband. (2) Around this time her career began to flourish and she accepted a distinguished American Academy residency in Rome, where she moved to in 1983. (3) It was in Rome, that she married Andre in January of 1985. In August, she returned to New York and the pair took up residence together in his New York City apartment. It was from this apartment, one month later, that she fell 34 stories to her death. (3) Though the circumstances of her death remain unknown, Andre was tried and acquitted for her murder and still resides in the apartment with his current wife. (7)

The death of Ana Mendieta led to much division and protest in the art world over whether the death was an accident, suicide or murder. Women artist groups such as the Guerilla Girls have largely protested the continued success of Carl Andre, and much of the art world resents the use of Mendieta’s body of work as evidence employed towards ruling her death a final suicidal performance. (3)

It has been 29 years since Ana’s death, however her art continues to be shown and appreciated around the world. In her lifetime she was awarded 4 grants and went on to receive 3 awards for her work after her death. Her work has been displayed in over 50 solo exhibitions and featured in over 350 group exhibitions, the majority of which have occurred since her passing. (1) In her short lifetime she had over a dozen performances, created thousands of photographs and dozens of films, the final number of which is still being determined. She also created numerous sculptures and installations. Gallery Lelong, in New York City, now represents the Estate of Ana Mendieta and her work can be found in over 70 public collections worldwide. (1)

1. “Ana Mendieta Biography.” Galerie Lelong. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Feb. 2014.

2. Mendieta, Ana, Olga M. Viso, and Guy Brett. Ana Mendieta – Earth Body: Sculpture and Performance, 1972 – 1985;. Washington, DC: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, 2004. Print.

3. O’Hagan, Sean. “Ana Mendieta: Death of an Artist Foretold in Blood.” The Observer. Guardian News and Media, 22 Sept. 2013. Web. 12 Feb. 2014.

4. “Ana Mendieta.” MOCA. He Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2010. Web. 12 Feb. 2014.

5. A, Ashley. “A Biography of Ana Mendieta.” WMST 250: Feminist Art Gallery. WomenandCulture.blogspot.com, 14 May 2012. Web. 12 Feb. 2014.

6. Mendieta, Ana. Interview by Joan Marter. 1 Feb. 1985: 1-17. Print.

7. Brockes, Emma. “Carl Andre: ‘I’m a Hopeless Drawer – and a Terrible Painter'” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 24 Jan. 2013. Web. 12 Feb. 2014.

Additional Sources:

“Ana Mendieta.” The Art Institute of Chicago. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Feb. 2014.

Heuer, Megan. “Ana Mendieta.” Ana Mendieta: Earth Body, Sculpture and Performance. Brooklyn Rail, 19 Sept. 2004. Web. 12 Feb. 2014.

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