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Godwin _____________________________________________

First Name

Joannie _____________________________________________

Student ID

2010000697 _________________________________________

Name of Programme

Bachelor of Applied Media Arts (Visual Media) _____________

Name of Paper

BMA321 Research ____________________________________


Karl Hart ____________________________________________

Assignment No.

2 __________________________________________________

Unit Standard No. (If Applicable) ___________________________________________________

Total No. of pages (including cover) 17 _________________________________________________

Submission Date

22/06/11 ____________________________________________

Date received by facilitator

Date returned to student



Ana Mendieta: The quest for Identity. paintings were not real enough for what I wanted the image to convey and by real I mean I wanted my images to have power, to be magic. I decided that for the images to have magic qualities I had to work directly with nature. I had to go to the source of life, to mother earth
(Ana Mendieta quoted by Roulet, 2004 p. 230)


a sculptural medium. She manipulated it by:

Burning it

produced over two hundred works of art

Lying down on it

Moulding it

used the earth as her source for rich artistic materials

peat rock

compost mud wet sand


clay slurry

Ana Mendieta



more than an inanimate object

A womb, both sexual and maternal

saw the earth as

a living process: at her hands it flooded and dried

froze and melted

fostered growth and decay

eroded and deposited itself

(After Blocker, 1999)


Introduction On the 25th Anniversary of Ana Mendietas death a comprehensive retrospective, Ana Mendieta: Documentation and Art Work, 1972-1985, was held at Galerie Lelong, Manhattan (WNYC Radio, 2011). The retrospective featured photography, drawings, sculpture and newly-restored films, some of which had never been seen before. The catalogue describes her as an artist obsessed with the human body, its presence and its absence. Many of her images consist of her own silhouette imprinted on the earth or on structures. Others show her camouflaging her naked body into various natural environments. (Galerie Lelong, 2010). According to this catalogue, Mendietas presence can be felt still. The complexity and interdisciplinary nature of her work makes it impossible to provide deep enough analysis to do justice to her work in an essay such as this. In this essay therefore, an attempt will be made to outline the person Ana Mendieta was and how her struggle for Identity, resulting from her childhood experiences, resulted in a profound review of humanitys interconnection with all materials upon our planet. A few of Mendietas works will be explored in order to highlight the conceptual aspects of her practice. In conclusion a mention will be made of the impact Mendieta has made upon the art world.

Background Ana Mendieta was born on November 18, 1948. She was the daughter of two highly influential Cuban political families. Growing up in a socially privileged, both publicly and politically environment, her childhood experiences were rich in Latin culture, racial integrity and pride (Viso, 2004). Throughout this culturally rich and enhanced upbringing she assimilated the myth of her culture. The family was however traumatically disrupted in 1959 when the Cuban revolution placed them in a position where although publicly, pro Castro, privately they were working for the counter revolutionaries (Roulet, 2004). The post revolution situation deteriorated and two years later Mendieta was sent to the US on a Catholic sponsored mission aimed at assisting Cuban youngsters to escape Communist indoctrination.


At thirteen Mendieta went from wealthy and socially advantaged to being the underdog in Iowa, a rural, conservative, geographically isolated State in the USA. Here she experienced the brutal realities of discrimination, rejection and abuse. Furthermore, as she had no relatives in the USA, she was shunted between foster homes and institutions, many of which also housed young people who were mentally disturbed, emotionally unstable or had criminal tendencies. This unstable adolescence left her with feelings of separation and abandonment (Viso 2004). In this unsatisfactory, bordering dysfunctional, backdrop Mendieta was unable to develop inter-family relational skills and as a result her ability for engagement was underdeveloped (Viso 2004). Blocker (1999) emphasises Mendietas sense of dislocation from her family and her land. Blocker further states that it was this very sense of dislocation that formed the essence of Mendietas power as an artist (1999). In 1966, Mendietas mother and little brother flew out to Iowa to live, as her father was now imprisoned in Cuba (Viso, 2004). This reconnection with her mother (which coincided with her years of self discovery studying for her Fine Arts degree at the University of Iowa) started significant processes in Mendietas life. Firstly she started to make the familial connections she had not been able to at the appropriate time of her life. Secondly, with family support and resources, Mendieta was introduced to the Cuban population in Miami. She started to reconnect with the culture of her childhood and for the first time in fifteen years she began to feel that she was not alone in a hostile culture (Blocker, 1999, Viso 2004). In 1980 Mendieta made the first of many trips to Cuba both by herself and with other prominent artists. She writes I was afraid before I went there, because I felt here Ive been living my life with this obsessive thing in my mind what if I find out it has nothing to do with me? But the minute I got there it was this whole thing of belonging again. (Mendieta in Roulet, 2004 p. 235)

Entering the Art World Mendietas reconciliation with her mother and the Cuban community heralded an era of self healing and restoration of identity which coincided with a ten year long relationship with artist and professor, Hans Breder. As Mendieta began to perform her

identity she discovered the bond she had with the earth which guided her art work for the rest of her life. Mendieta stated that she felt overwhelmed by the feeling of having been cast from the womb (nature). My art is the way I re-establish the bonds that unite me to the universe (The African America Experience, 1999). While this was happening in her emotional life, Mendieta was at University being intellectually challenged Post-Minimalist performance, land art, body art, Installation practice, video art, process and conceptual art which were busy questioning the Modernist tradition of finding fixed meaning in works of art. Mendieta was plunged into inquiries which involved the de-emphasis of product and the assumption of transparency of meaning and presence. Rosenthal (2003) comments that as artists confronted Modernism, the exalted status of galleries and dealerships became suspect. The context of the works started to grow in importance, and relationship to Site was explored in many ways. Temporariness, the provisional, diffusion, and de-centring abounded. The focus was on the creative process necessary for making and being (Honour and Fleming, 2005). In addition, de-centring demanded that the audience became actively engaged in the viewing process in order to understand and appreciate the works. In these formative years Mendieta met many prominent artists through the University and had participated in many works. She was introduced, through Willoughby Sharp and Ted Victoria, visiting professors to the University, to kinetic, body and air art of artists such as Vito Acconci, Chris Burden and Bruce Nauman (Roulet, 2004). Mendieta was awarded her Masters of Fine Arts in mixed media in 1977 which was influenced by Vito Acconcis and Marcel Duchamps experimentation in gender switching. By this stage Mendieta had given up painting to concentrate on performance and she began to merge her body with the land in a series of performances which she recorded either photographically or on video. However, she did not claim to be part of the Performance movement, although she acknowledges as influences artists such as Nauman, Acconci, Oppenheim and the Viennese Actionists. Her intention was to perform the boundary between herself and her audience, the feminine and masculine, and the body and the spirit (Blocker, 1999) and to document herself as she performed her overwhelming need to ground herself in place, time and history (Viso , 2004, p. 56).


Burial Pyramid, Yagul, Mexico, 1974 Super-8 colour, silent film transferred to DVD, running time: 3 minutes, 30 seconds Edition 5/6 Alison Jacques Gallery rtists/47/works/

Untitled 1977, Serie rbol de la vida (Tree of Life Series) Colour Photograph 131/4 x 20 inches Collection of Raquel Mendieta Harrington. In Barreras del, Rio, P. and Perreault, J. (Curators) (1987)

Alma Silueta en Fuego (Silueta de Cenizas), 1975 Super-8 colour, silent film transferred to DVD running time: 3 minutes, 30 seconds Edition 4/6 Alison Jacques Gallery rtists/47/works/

La Vivificacin de la Carne (The Vivication of the Flesh) 1981 1982 Amategram Series Gouche and acrylic on amate (bark) paper 24 x 17 inches. Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Mrs. Fernand Leval and Robert Miller Gallery, Inc. Gift, 1983 (1983.502.1) in Barreras del, Rio, P. and Perreault, J. (Curators) (1987)

Untitled (Silueta Series), 1978 Vintage colour photograph mounted on board Unframed: 33.7 x 50.8 cms / 13 1/4 x 20 ins, Framed: 45.7 x 62 cms / 18 x 24 3/8 ins Alison Jacques Gallery rtists/47/works/

igo Burial, 1976 Forty-seven black ritual candles 152.4 x 102.9 cms / 60 x 40 1/2 ins Alison Jacques Gallery rtists/47/works/

Untitled (Silueta Series), circa 1978 Vintage colour photograph Unframed: 20.3 x 25.4 cms / 8 x 10 ins, Framed: 32 x 38.7 cms / 12 5/8 x 15 1/4 ins Alison Jacques Gallery rtists/47/works/

Untitled (Silueta Series), 1978 Vintage colour photograph mounted on board Unframed: 33.7 x 50.8 cms / 13 1/4 x 20 ins, Framed: 45.7 x 62 cms / 18 x 24 3/8 ins Alison Jacques Gallery rtists/47/works/

Untitled 1973 Lifetime Colour Photograph 9 x 7 inches Collection of Hans Breder Original Documentation 35 mm slide. In Viso, 2004)


The Influence of Feminism Other powerful paradigm shifts were occurring while Mendieta was exploring the freedom of post-modern practice. In 1975, the same year that Carolee Schneemann performed Interior Scroll, Lucy Lippard, art historian and lecturer, visited University of Iowa lecturing on womyns issues. The two womyn met and began a long friendship. Mendieta developed close friendships with many other prominent Feminist artists and was therefore very close to the Feminist movement. Blocker reflects upon the interrelatedness of feminism and post-modernism commenting how the challenges to modernism meant aggressively to question sexism, to expose the mechanisms of identity and difference, and to deconstruct representation. Indeed, the efficacy of postmodernism is often said to be in its feminist conscience (Blocker, 1999, p. 8). In 1979 Judy Chicargo released Dinner Party celebrating many historic womyn figures including references to the great goddess. Relationship was foremost in feminist practice politically, artistically and socially. For example, Lippard included Mendieta in several articles for publication, giving her national exposure which proved advantageous to Mendietas career. Mendieta and Mary Beth Edelson hosted dinner in honour of Louise Bourgeois where each artist was invited to dress as their favourite artist. Mendieta dressed as Frida Kahlo. After the break up of her relationship to Breder, she moved to New York to be near her feminist friends. During this period she performed La Noche Yemay where she is wrapped as a mummy surrounded by glowing stars. As Lucy Lippard wrote in 1980, Feminisms greatest contribution to the future of art has probably been precisely its lack of contribution to modernism (Blocker, 1999, p. 9) and relationship is diametrically opposed to the mechanical, technology driven, modernist duality. Mendietas consistent use of her body and its suggestion, as left by her silhouette, introduced a feminist methodology into the earthworks of the time. Mendieta brought the discussion back to the intimate space between man and spirit. She portrayed herself as fusing with the landscape on many occasions and she criticised other earth artists who brutalized Mother Earth with their monumental constructions. Her intent


was to illuminate humanitys fragility compared to the power of nature. In this way she was a precursor of the eco-feminist movement.

Relationship to Nature Her first work considered to be an earth/body work was Untitled (Grass on Woman) where she had other students glue freshly cut grass onto her naked back until she appeared to fuse with the ground. Although it was not unusual at this time to use the body in works of art, Mendieta differs from other artists in her genre (such as Bruce Nauman) in that she photographed her own body. From this work she moved on to produce what is now known as the Silueta series. In this series Mendieta integrates her body into Nature in a variety of ways and then documents the process. The Silueta series was possibly a way in which Mendieta attempted to incorporate her shattered self into her native land thereby healing the rift in her identity that obsessed her. As a consequence of her profoundly sensuous relationship to nature and her indelible marks on the earth, (The African America Experience, 1999) Mendieta believed that as an artist, she could not convey the layers of meaning she felt compelled to, through performance. She came to believe that the environment of performance was too limited and contrived. For this reason she began to perform much of her work alone, in nature. She did not reveal the locations of her working sites; instead she aimed to present the viewer with the metaphorical potential of the site in terms of its origins and present existence. This reveals the identity crisis prevalent in her work where she dealt with her own feelings of her origins and present existence (Blocker, 1999). Mendieta interacted with earth in many different ways to perform her identity and most of the earthworks remain only in documented form. Butler (2003) points out that each performance alters the identity of the performer. Interestingly, as Mendieta performed she created works which were ephemeral and transient. Once she was finished, the works vanished or disintegrated into nature. Mendieta began to incorporate this newly discovered temporality into her identity as she began to substitute an outline of her body to represent her presence in the performance. By leaving traces of herself in the ground she was allowing Mother


Earth to act upon her, eroding or decaying therefore re-invested into the continuity in flux that is Life. She saw her work as a dialogue between her body and the Earth, in a symbiotic relationship with the earth (Viso, 2004, p. 56).

Blood and other Symbolism Early on in her work, while she was still at University in fact, Mendieta started investigating rape and domestic violence. In several of her works she featured images of rape, of womyn tied up or of herself lying face down in a pool of blood and being photographed. Throughout her life blood was an important signifier of ritual violence and sacred force in her work. Mendieta believed that blood was a powerful force with magical qualities. She saw an authenticity and intuitive bonding to the spiritual in primitive cultures who believed in magic. She endorsed the ideal that primitive cultures were holistic, held Nature as god and aspired to Universal Truths. The sense of magic, knowledge and power expressed in primitive art was a strong influence in her work (Viso, 2004). In Untitled (Blood and Feathers) (1974) Mendieta combined the metaphors of blood spilt in violence and blood as a powerful primitive force. Mendieta performed the goddess in her ritualistic chicken killings of the 70s which coincided with the resurgence of the goddess cult and the feminist theories that resurrected the goddess

Film still from Untitled (Blood Sign #1), 1974 Super 8 colour, silent film retrieved from Galerie Lelong NY Webpage

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archetype. Mendieta included much matriarchal symbolism and used the mythical imagery of the Tree of Life as inspiration for many of her first Silueta series.

Documentation Documentation was a vital part of the process for Mendieta. She documented her performances in photograph, film, and video, and this evidence is now the significant body of her work. (The African American Experience, 1999). To obtain each photograph of the ritualistic performance, Mendieta would shoot many preparatory slides of a location to establish the point of view that she was after (Blocker, 1999). Each image was vital to her message. She aimed to get a sense of longing into her images as she strove to capture a moment of history and experience that was timeless and universal (Viso 2004). Subtly she shifted from using her body to perform, to documenting herself performing a ritual. In this she was influenced by the idea that ritual traditions could invoke powers, foster links between the living and the dead, and connect man to deity (Viso, 2004). Later she began to represent herself with a body shaped mound or outline on

Untitled ( Silueta Series0, Iowa), 1977 35 mm colour slide in Viso, 2004

the ground, and many of the ritual aspects of her work became more pronounced.
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Themes For her first Silueta Mendieta lay down in a tomb in Mexico, while Breder put white flowers on her nude body and took photographs. She notes of this performance that she feels as if she were covered in time and history (Roulet, 2004, p. 231). In between this and her next work, Mendieta heard Vito Acconci at the University, after which she continued to make earth-body works in archaeological zones. These early Siluetas reference burial and archaeology. She inserted her naked body into nature as she invoked her ancestral past by incorporating ritual, tradition, and the architecture of a bygone civilization. However these were not the only themes she dealt with. Her work was extremely complex and deeply nuanced. In other Silueta works such as Untitled (Genesis Buried in Mud) 1975, she inserted herself into the ground and then emerged as if from the womb of Mother Earth (Roulet, 2004). In Alma Silueta en Fuego (Soul Silhouette on Fire) she used a substitute for her body and burnt it. She also produced Siluetas in snow and ice. What set Mendieta apart from the male land artists of the time such as Smithson, Heizer or Morris was her convincing feminine sensibility, which allowed her to incorporate her strong sculptural responsiveness into her performative ritual (Viso 2004). In performing her Silueta pieces, Mendieta entered into a dialogue about gender, culture, colour nation and ethnicity (Blocker 1999). During one of these trips she created her Rupestrian Sculpture Series in which she made earth sculptures in the limestone caves at the Escaleras de Jaruca. She dedicated these carved and painted sculptures to the ancient earth goddesses, incorporating Tano Indian mythology and terminology. African American Express states that these goddess figures recalled the ancient Caribbean or pre-Columbian petroglyphs of fertility deities (African American Experience, 1999). In one of the various Artist Statements of this time, she explains that she became interested in primitive art and cultures during her childhood in Cuba. It seems as if these cultures are provided with an inner knowledge, closeness to

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Untitled, (Fetish Series) 1977. Colour photograph, 20 x 13 inches Courtesy of the Estate of Ana Mendieta, in del Rio and Perreault, 1987),in Viso, 2004

natural sources. And it is this knowledge which gives reality to the images they have created. This sense of magic, knowledge and power found in primitive art has influenced my personal attitude toward art-making. For the past twelve years I have been working out in nature, exploring the relationship between myself, the earth and art. I have thrown myself into the very elements that produced me, using the earth as my canvas and my soul as my tools. (Galerie Lelong, New York, quoted in The African American Experience, 1999) From this stance Mendieta began to investigate Afro-Cuban culture, traditions and iconography. Her interest led to the Fetish Series. African fetish figures are generally wooden statuettes covered in protruding nails, alleged to summon spiritual intervention. Mendietas Fetish Series comprised mounds of earth in the shape of a body, impaled with sticks in a circular pattern. Other figures were decorated with line drawings resembling Afro-Cuban anaforuana signs or Haitian vv ground painting. She reflected on African and Afro-Cuban language and iconography throughout the rest of her career to reveal her view of herself (Viso, 2004).

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The end By 1983 Mendieta is in a relationship with Carl Andre, and she and Andre collaborate on a book of lithographs. They travel extensively throughout Europe, where Mendieta produced Furrows, an undulating outdoor earthwork. Of this time she writes, My work is basically in the tradition of a Neolithic artist. It has very little to do with most earth art. Im not interested in the formal qualities of my materials, but their emotional and sensual ones (Mendieta in Roulet, 2004, p. 238). Mendieta and Andre were married in 1985 and eight months later she fell to her death in mysterious circumstances. Andre was acquitted of her murder. Two years after her death the first Ana Mendieta retrospective was held. Conclusion. In this essay Mendietas life experiences have been discussed as a means to understand the driving force behind her work. Many of her private beliefs have been revealed and discussed in order to enter into the spirit of her work and to understand it. It has been shown that Mendieta managed to modify and synthesize all the major trends of the Post-Minimalist exploration. In her work one can discern an amalgamation of many disciplines. Her work is not photography, nor land art, nor body art. Blockers interpretation is that Mendietas work stands at a complex intersection between conceptual and earth art, post minimalism and feminism, and critical theory and performance art of the times (1999, p. 9). At the Galerie Lelong, New York, Mendieta is listed as one of the seminal artists of our time (Galerie Lelong, 2010). John Perreault, writing in the exhibition catalogue of Mendietas first Retrospective, in 1987, declared that her artwork had made a significant contribution to art in the twentieth century in that it was expressive without being maudlin; it taps primitive imagery and sources of energy without being exploitative (Barreras del Rio & Perreault, 1987, p. 13). In addition he observed When we have finished the task of sorting the art that emerged from seventies pluralism a task we are only now beginning Mendietas art will be seen as far more important than it is now possible to imagine. Her work foreshadows what can only be called a turn to the spiritual (Barreras del Rio & Perreault, 1987, p. 14).

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Mendieta performed an understanding of the feminine that para-feminist theorists are only now beginning to define (Jones, 2003). Her work features in many current theorists works on para-feminist practice and we can see from this that she was ahead of her times in being able to conceptualize the struggle that womyn and other marginalized groups have, in 2011, for Identity.

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Alison Jacques Gallery. (2011). Retrieved from

Barreras del Rio, P. & Perreault, J. (Curators). (1987). Ana Mendieta: a retrospective. New York, N.Y.: The New Museum of Contemporary Art. 1987

Blocker, J. (1999). Where is Ana Mendieta? Durham and London, UK: Duke University Press.

Butler, J. (2003). Performative acts and gender constitution: An essay in Phenomenology and feminist theory. In A. Jones (Ed), The feminist and visual culture reader. London, UK and New York, NY: Routledge.

Galerie Lelong. (2010). Ana Mendieta: Documentation and Art Work, 1972-1985. Retrieved from

Honour, H., & Fleming, L. (2005). A world history of art. (7th ed.). London, UK: Laurence King Publishing.

Jones, A. ( Ed). (2003). The feminism and visual culture reader. London, UK: Routledge

Rosenthal, M. (2003). Understanding installation art: from Duchamp to Holzer. Munich, Germany and New York: Prestel.
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Roulet, L. (2004). Ana Mendieta: A life in conflict. In O. M. Viso, Mendieta:earth body, Sculpture and Performance 1972 - 1985 (pp. 224 - 239). Washington, DC: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institute in association with Hatje Cantz Verlag.

The African American Experience. (1999). Women artists of color: a bio-critical sourcebook to 20th century artists in the Americas. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. 12 Jun 2011. Retrieved from http://testaae.greenwood. com/doc.aspx?fileID=GR0374&chapterID=GR0374-1164&path= books/greenwood

Viso, O. (2004). Mendieta: earth body. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institute: Hatje Cantz Publishers.

WNYC Radio. ( 2011). Retrieved from /2010/oct/28/datebook-october-28-2010/

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