Ana Mendieta

Ana Mendieta

“My exploration through my art of the relationship between myself and nature has been a clear result of my having been torn from my homeland during my adolescence. The making of my silueta in nature keeps (make) the transition between my homeland and my new home. It is a way of reclaiming my roots and becoming one with nature. Although the culture in which I live is part of me, my roots and cultural identity are a result of my Cuban heritage.”
—Ana Mendieta

About the artist

The photographs of Ana Mendieta document private sculptural performances enacted in the landscape to invoke and represent the spirit of renewal inspired by nature and the power of the feminine. In her Silueta series (begun in 1974), created on location in Iowa and Mexico, Mendieta carved and shaped her own figure into the earth to leave haunting traces of her body fashioned from flowers, tree branches, mud, gunpowder, and fire. A typology of Siluetas emerged, including figures with arms held overhead to represent the merging of earth and sky; floating in water to symbolize the minimal space between land and sea; and with arms raised and legs together to signify a wandering soul. By 1978, the Siluetas gave way to ancient goddess forms carved into rock, shaped from sand, or incised in clay beds.

An exile from Cuba, Ana Mendieta was sent from her native homeland to an orphanage in Iowa at age 12. This traumatic experience had a tremendous impact on her art. She felt that, through her art, her interactions with nature and work in the landscape would help facilitate the transition between her homeland and new home. By fusing her interests in Afro-Cuban ritual and the pantheistic Santeria religion with contemporary aesthetic practices such as Earthworks, Body art, and Performance art she maintained ties with her Cuban heritage.

View + Discuss

Ana Mendieta (1948–1985)
Ana Untitled (from the Silueta series), a.k.a. Silueta Muerta, August 1976
Color Photograph, 9 15⁄16 x 7 15⁄16 inches (23.65 x 18.57 cm)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Purchased with funds contributed by the Photography Committee, 98.5234with funds contributed by the Photography Committee, 1998 98.5234

Ana Mendieta (1948–1985)
Untitled (from the Silueta series), July 1978
Color Photograph, 10 x 7 15/16 inches (25.4 x 18.57 cm)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Purchased with funds contributed by the Photography Committee, 98.5235

Ana Mendieta (1948–1985)
Untitled (from the Silueta series), August 1978
Black-and-White Photograph, 8 x 9 15⁄16 inches (20.32 x 23.65 cm)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Purchased with funds contributed by the Photography Committee, 98.5239

1. What are some things you notice about these images?

2. What do the photographs tell us about Mendieta’s interests? What do you see that made you say that?

3. These photographs are referred to as the Silueta series—silueta is Spanish for “silhouette.” (Have students look up the word if necessary.) What is a silhouette and how does it relate to these images?

4. Mendieta’s work integrated many different categories of art including Body art, Earthworks, Performance art, and photography. How has she used her body to create these works? In what ways are these earthworks?

5. Mendieta used particular positions of her body to symbolize different ideas. (Have students identify each image as you cite an example.) For example, arms held overhead stood for bringing together land and sea; floating in water represented the land and sea.

6. Mendieta’s work was ephemeral, meaning it lasted only for a short time. The photographs recording her Earthworks and Body art are all that remain. Why would an artist create work that is ephemeral? If you were an artist, how would you feel about creating ephemeral work?

Art Explorations

Explore how body movements and poses can communicate or symbolize particular thoughts and feelings. Have students take turns demonstrating while the others guess the thought or feeling being conveyed.

Working in pairs in front of a strong light source, have students recreate a silhouette of themselves by tracing an outline of their entire body on a large sheet of paper. Have them consider in advance their body position and what they would like it to communicate. Fill in your silhouette with natural materials that have special significance to you.

Explore the concept of body art further with your students. What ways can they think of to use their body as tool for creating art? How have other people throughout history used their body as a “canvas” for creating art (for example, tattoos, scarification, body paint, molds)? Using a slab of clay have them create interesting imprints or molds with their hands or feet.

Have students work in groups to conceptualize and create an ephemeral work of art. Document the work using photography or video.

Recall the story of Mendieta’s traumatic childhood experience and its effect on her art. If students were forced to move and live in another country, what ties to their homeland might they choose to explore through their art? Discuss and have students write about ties significant to their own homeland or cultural heritage. How would they create a work of art that integrates those ties?

Additional Resources

Blocker, Jane. Where is Ana Mendieta?: Identity, Performativity, and Exile. Duke University Press, 1999.

Burden, Chris. Chris Burden: A Twenty-Year Survey. Orange County Museum of Art, 1988.

Clearwater, Bonnie and Ana Mendieta. Ana Mendieta, A Book of Works. Grassfield Press, 1993.

Duncan, Michael. “Tracing Mendieta.” Art in America, April 1999, pp. 110–13.

Mendieta, Ana, et al. Ana Mendieta. Rizzoli, 1998.

Vocabulary

BODY ART A style of art in which the body of the artist literally becomes the artist’s medium. Sometimes the work is executed in private and communicated by means of photographs or video recordings; sometimes the execution of the "piece" is public. The performance may be pre-choreographed or extemporaneous.

EARTHWORKS ART Art that transforms an area of land using rock, soil and other natural materials.

EPHEMERAL ART Works of art that exist only for a short time.

PERFORMANCE ART An art that consists of or features a performance by the artist and combines elements of theater, music, and the visual arts. Performances are often dramas juxtaposing symbolic, sometimes vaguely disturbing, bits of action.

SANTERIA A religion that incorporates worship of the Orisha (head guardian) and beliefs of the Yoruba and Bantu people in Southern Nigeria, Senegal, and Guinea Coast with elements of worship from Roman Catholicism.

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