Born in Havana in 1948, Ana Mendieta came to the United States after being exiled from Cuba in 1961. Mendieta studied with Hans Breder (b. 1935) at the University of Iowa, Iowa City (BA 1969, MA 1972, MFA 1977). Although she worked at times in Cuba, Mexico, and Italy, her primary residence was in New York from 1978 until her death in 1985. Mendieta is best known for what she called "earth-body works," and her practice centered on themes of the female body, death, cultural displacement, and transformation. While her oeuvre may be seen as autobiographical, the use of overlapping forms between landscape and the body in her film, video, and photographic work is aligned also with land art and allowed her work to transgress the bounds of personal experience to convey universal modes of being.
Having moved to the United States at a young age, Mendieta had an interest in Cuban culture and often utilized the aesthetic and ritualistic tones of Santería (a religious practice common in Cuba) through the natural symbols of earth, blood, water, and fire. This is seen in Mendieta's most enduring and widely collected work, Silueta (Silhouette, 1973–80). In this series the body is primarily noted through its absence as the artist explored spirituality and performance while also highlighting the historical erasure of, and violence against, women. Mendieta was deeply immersed in feminist art practices of the late 1970s and early 1980s, and her work of the period was aligned with that of contemporaries such as Hannah Wilke (1940–1993) or Carolee Schneemann (b. 1939), who were also extending their visual art practices into the field of body-performance. In Untitled (Body Tracks) (1974), Mendieta eschewed the ubiquitous male gaze, instead using her body to create art forms. In this video performance she stands facing a wall with her arms stretched overhead and slowly falls to her knees, leaving behind a bright red trail of blood in two vertical lines tracking toward each other but never converging.
Mendieta was a recipient of the 2009 Cintas Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in the Visual Arts, awarded posthumously, and her work is in numerous public collections, including those of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Art Institute of Chicago; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Musée d'Art Moderne et Contemporain, Geneva; and Tate Modern, London.
—January Parkos Arnall
Selected Solo Exhibitions
1979 Ana Mendieta, A.I.R. Gallery, Brooklyn
1987 Ana Mendieta: A Retrospective, New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York
1997 Ana Mendieta, Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona
2004 Ana Mendieta: Earth Body; Sculpture and Performance, 1972–1985, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
2011 Ana Mendieta, Art Institute of Chicago
Ana Mendieta: A Retrospective. New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1987.
Moure, Gloria, ed. Ana Mendieta. Barcelona: Fundació Antoni Tàpies; Santiago de Compostela, Spain: Centro Gallego de Arte Contemporánea, 1977.
Rosenthal, Stephanie, ed. Traces: Ana Mendieta. London: Hayward, 2013.
Viso, Olga M. Ana Mendieta: Earth Body; Sculpture and Performance, 1972–1985. Washington, DC: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, 2004.
———. Unseen Mendieta: The Unpublished Works of Ana Mendieta. Munich: Prestel, 2008.