Ana Mendieta was a Cuban artist, born in Havana in 1948 to a family of prominent politicians. She worked with painting, sculpture, video and performances; however, she is better known for her earth-body works in which she could explore the relationship between the female body and the landscape.
Mendieta was sent to USA with her sister in 1961 as part of the Operation Peter Pan, she was 12 in a foreign country and moving regularly between foster homes. Five years later the sisters were reunited with their mother and brother, but only in 1979 her father was released from a political prison and the family could be all together again.
Mendieta’s work can be considered somewhat autobiographical, inspired by her own past and focused on themes such as feminism, violence, life, death, identity, place, belonging and generally associated with the four basics elements of nature. She often focused on a spiritual and physical connection with the Earth, she felt that by uniting her body with the earth she could become entire again, in her own words:
Through my earth-body sculptures, I become one with the earth… I become an extension of nature and nature becomes an extension of my body (…) an omnipresent female force, the after image of being encompassing within the womb, is a manifestation of my thirst for being.”
During her lifetime, she produced over than 200 works of art in Mexico, Cuba, Italy and United States, using the earth as a sculptural medium. Her techniques were mainly influenced by Afro-Cuban traditions.
Mexico was the stage for her Silueta Series (1973, 1974 and 1976) a series of over than 100 earth-body. In this series she uses the shape of her own body to create sculptural pieces that keeps a dialogue with the landscape by using mediums as dirt and blood.
In 1973, she was deeply affected by the brutal rape and murder of a fellow student whose body was found at the campus where Mendieta lived. This incident pulled the artist to create what is probably her most explicit work: Untitled (Rape Scene), here she covered her body in blood before lying face down in a wooded area of the campus and inviting peers to witness the scene. In doing so, she joins other artists such as Yoko Ono, Carole Schneemann or Marina Abramovic in using her body to protest the sexual violence women have endured for centuries.
Some art historians have suggested that Mendieta’s fascination with blood could be a reference to the Cuban Santeria (in which ceremonies blood is often used, this religion combine elements of the Roman Catholicism with African worships), grounding her art in the heritage of the country she had to abandon, but in which were her roots.
Mendieta died at the age of 36 after falling from the 34th floor of the apartment where she lived in New York with her husband, the sculptor Carl Andre in 1985. Andre was acquitted of her murder in February 1988, nonetheless much controversy still surrounds Mendieta’s tragic death. This has been a driving factor for many protest groups who want further investigation into how and why she died, and that also want visibility to women in a white, male dominated art world.
In 2010, a symposium titled Where is Ana Mendieta? was held at New York University to commemorate the 25th anniversary of her death. And the majority of large comprehensive exhibition on her work are posthumous.
She’s considered as one of the greatest artists of 20th century.