Ana Mendieta(1948–1984) was a Cuban born artist who lived in political exile in the United States. She created her artwork, combining feminism with photography, land, body and performance art. Ana was a member of the AIR all-women gallery in New York.
Ana Mendieta died in 1984 after ‘falling’ from her 34th floor apartment in New York. Knowing her fear of heights, her friends ruled out the possibility of suicide. Many believed her partner, sculptor Carl Andre, had pushed her out of the window to her death in a drunken rage.
When the police arrived, Andre had scratch marks on his nose and arms. His statements to the authorities differed from his message to the emergency services.
Andre was arrested and charged with murder.
In court, a doorman testified that he heard a woman screaming “No” several times , then heard the thud of her body as it hit the floor below.
While Ana’s artistic profile was on the up in the New York arts scene, her male partner however was not receiving the same attention. Her friend stated ‘She had too much going for her at the time, more so than him. Her work was being noticed. And she wasn’t depressed.’
Andre’s decision was to be tried by a judge rather than a jury, resulting in him receiving no cross-examination by the prosecution.
Andre was eventually acquitted.
His lawyers used examples of Ana’s artwork to suggest that she committed suicide.
Her friends stated that ‘Many powerful figures in the New York art world colluded in that.”
A patriarchal reading of her work, however, failed to acknowledge the politics which informed Mendieta’s life, and a misogynistic system therefore willfully ignored the male violence which was the heavily implied cause of her death.
Her artwork was actually often influenced by questions of home, place and boundaries due to her exiled status. This in turn, related to her feminist ideas, which often challenged the gender hierarchy which can imprison people within particular restrictive borders.
Ana created “Untitled (Facial Hair Transplants)” in the early 1970’s. The artist questioned the constriction of gender roles while also challenging the expected in terms of female expression and representation.
Ana’s ‘Silueta’ series comprised of a series of outdoor performances which were documented in film and photograph. Firstly Mendieta preformed the ‘event’. The artist utilised her body to create imprints with low relief in various substances (e.g. earth, ice, gunpowder), to create the appearance of silhouettes on the ground. This was then followed by transformation of that image by differing processes (e.g. melting ice, weathering). The idea was therefore to represent an on-going, shifting process.
As life is itself.
The central motif of the artists’ goddess-like yet absent form, connects her female form to the land itself. In doing so Ana explored her sex and the effects of subjectivity as well as the social processes that inform gender construction, in addition to issues of ethnicity, spirituality, ritual, territory, memory and loss of status.
Ana’s artwork is also perceived as yonic art-reflective and suggestive of female genitalia, all, in turn, indicative of Ana’s feminist ideals. Ana’s use of goddess imagery reclaimed not only women’s power but was an expression of her own identify, as she controlled her own female image and imagery. ‘Silueta’ highlights Ana as artist/subject which itself challenges how women are portrayed and treated as a result of masculinist ideals and patriarchal culture.
In 1973 Ana also created a performance of the scene of a rape – ‘Untitled (Rape Scene)’ in which her use of blood was intended to carry a strongly political feminist message……
…..to bring awareness of male violence against women.
Ana Mendieta (1948-1984).