In her 36 years, Ana Mendieta created deeply powerful and provocative work that touched on nature, violence toward women, displacement, and identity. But despite her important contributions to the art world, Mendieta has remained undervalued, with her untimely and tragic death overshadowing her art. On September 8, 1985, Mendieta plunged 24 floors to her death. Her husband, Carl Andre, was accused of killing her, but was acquitted because of a lack of evidence. In recent years, however, many have pushed for the acknowledgment of Mendieta – the latest of which is The Wing’s No Man’s Land podcast – and her work. The series highlights women who played by their own rules, who history has forgotten, or whose stories need to be retold. This week’s episode breaks down why Ana Mendieta was a pioneer.
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Ana Mendieta was a Cuban-American performance artist, video-artist, and sculptor interested in the relationship between the female body and nature. Her works with photographs and video footage of her own body camouflaged in a natural environment are considered some of her most compelling. Born in Havana, Cuba in 1948, she immigrated to the United States at the age of 12 to flee the oppressive Castro regime, leaving her parents behind in Cuba. Ana & her sister spent their first weeks in refugee camps before being sent to an orphanage in Iowa. The artist’s nomadic early life had a profound impact on her, and much of her work addressed her desire to return to her homeland. “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,” she has said of her work. “It is a way of reclaiming my roots and becoming one with nature.” Today, her works are on display at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, Art Institute of Chicago, and Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, among others. #artgirlrising #anamendieta #supportwomenartists #5womenartists #womensupportwomen
In this week’s episode, Alexis Coe walks us through Mendieta’s journey to the United States and her work as a visual artist. She interviews Raquel Mendieta, Ana’s niece, and others familiar with her work to ensure that we get the fullest picture of who Ana was as a person and an artist. “We were renegades, marginalized in the culture” said Carolee Schneemann, a visual artist who was friends with Ana. “It was a time when the culture said to young women artists, ‘You can do anything you want, but it won’t matter.'”
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Mendieta used the earth as a site to address issues of displacement, impressing her body in various outdoor locations and recording its imprint in photographs and video. In these Silueta works, performed from 1973–77, she would often fill in the silhouette of her body with materials including rocks, twigs, flowers, and blood, combining a concern with primal rituals and a modern, feminist sensibility. Mendieta wanted to invoke the “magic, knowledge, and power of primitive art…to express the immediacy of life and the eternity of nature,” as she once said. In other works she smeared herself with blood, or used it to trace her outline. She tragically died, aged 36, in New York when she fell from her 34th-floor apartment window; her husband, the artist Carl Andre, was acquitted of her murder. #anamendieta #artgirlrising #supportwomenartists #5womenartists Via Artsy & Artnet
At this time, the art world sidelined women, and their bodies were mostly represented in art through the male gaze. “And so using the body was such a conflicted terrain because it was supposed to be to arouse men. And of course, as soon as you took your underwear off that must be ’cause it’s gonna give guys a hard-on, and then it didn’t, and they were very angry about that.”
While the podcast also touches on Carl Andre – who is a part of her story – it makes sure to center who she was and what she accomplished in her short life. Check out the episode here and learn about Mendieta’s legacy.