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 Ana Mendieta  (1948 - 1985)

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Lived/Active: New York / Cuba      Known for: sculptor-conceptual, silhouette-figure

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Ad Code: 3
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
Untitled (Self-Portrait with Blood)
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is by Charles Merewether and is from the website: http://grandstreet.com/gs/gs67/mendieta/mendieta.html

In the summer of 1975 the young Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta initiated an ongoing series of works based on the silhouette of her body. Until this time Mendieta had focused on painting and performance; the introduction of the silhouette enabled her to remove herself from the work by providing the armature for a surrogate figure. The body was now overtly absent, and the viewer's gaze focused on an outline that traced the unseen body of Mendieta herself.

Mendieta made her first major silhouette piece, "Silueta de Yemaya" (Silhouette of Yemaya), at Old Man's Creek in Iowaa favorite site close to where she lived. Covering a wooden raft with dark red velvet, she laid a silhouette of herself made from white flowers on top of the raft and set it afloat on the river. Shortly afterward, Mendieta produced her first fire piece: Silueta de Cenizas (Silhouette of Ashes). Following the writings of Mircea Eliade, Mendieta saw both water and fire as sources of energy, as well as symbolic mediums of consecration, baptism, and the passage of the soul from death to rebirth. Silueta de Yemaya and Silueta de Cenizas represented the beginning of, and impetus for, a body of work that would occupy Mendieta until her death in 1985.

During the next four years Mendieta produced more than 100 silhouette pieces in which fire, with its power to consume and symbolically renew, and ashes were central components. In November 1975 Mendieta produced the filmed action "Alma Silueta en Fuego" (Soul Silhouette in Fire), which began with the burning of a silhouette made from a white sheet. In an earlier work she had used a white sheet like a shroud, but here there was no symbolic corpse, only a scorched imprint left in the earth. The disappearance of the body was made explicit by the trace that remained: smoldering ashes in the hollowed-out silhouette of her disembodied self.

In a notebook Mendieta kept during this time, she drew on her childhood experience of the Afro-Caribbean religion of Santería as well as on theories of duplication or mimesis to define her artistic practice. Mimesis can be understood as a way of reproducing the self and therefore making it other, with a consequent emancipation of the subject. The economy that drove Mendieta's work was the dialectical movement between abandonment and freedom, between disembodiment and a communion with the forces of nature.

"Abandonment" was precisely the term that Mendieta had used to describe the profound sense of exile and estrangement she felt after being sent at age 12 from her native Cuba at an orphanage in Iowa. The silueta became a way of moving outside of herself, which she saw as creating the possibility of a return to the earth. It corresponds, in part, to what Freud called "the uncanny," in which doubling or mimesis is a way of effecting a heterogeneous relation to and dispossession of the self. For Freud this was "originally an insurance against the destruction to the ego, an energetic denial of the power of death."

On February 23, 1976, Mendieta's exhibition "Nanigo Burial and Filmwork" opened at the 112 Greene Street Gallery in New York City. The principal work, "The Burial of Nanigo", was a silueta of herself made from forty-seven lit black candles and presented in a darkened room. Mendieta continued to draw on Afro-Caribbean culture, in this case referring to the secret male religious society of Nanigo and its recognition and disavowal of women as sacred and sacrificial subjects.

On the wall beside "The Burial of Nanigo", Mendieta projected a slide of her 1975 work "Silueta de Cenizas". However, rather than choosing an image of the burned-out silhouette, she projected an image of the work in flames and turned it upright so that the figure appeared to be standing. This transformation of Silueta de Cenizas into a symbol of regeneration through fire would lead to her Anima works of the same year.

Throughout 1976, Mendieta worked extensively in both Iowa and Mexico, developing the idea of the silhouette and using different materials and sites to produce permutations of meaning. In August, while staying just outside of Oaxaca at San Felipe, Mendieta sought out a local coheteroa person who makes fireworksand asked him to make a silhouette to her size. She lay down on a large piece of white paper and had him trace the outline of her body. From this template the cohetero made a bamboo armature for the fireworks. Six weeks later, the completed structure arrived; setting it upright on the side of a hill, Mendieta waited for dusk and then lit it. She titled the work Anima (Alma/Soul). It generated an energy and radiance of tremendous power and then consumed itself, leaving nothing but the silhouette's charred outline.

The figure suggested the Mexican effigies of Judas made with fireworks at Easter-time and ignited on Easter Sunday. With its arms upraised and legs pinned together, it was iconographically similar to the image of the Anima Sola,a popular Latin AmericanCatholic image that depicts a woman standing in the flames of purgatory, her chained hands held up toward heaven. According to the social historian Jean Meyer, writing on Mexico of the 1920s, the Christian figure of martyrdom, especially that of Christ on the Cross, was as much a model for peasants in Mexico as it was for women in medieval Europe. Through offering the self for the redemption of the community, the martyr enters a spiritual state. It is this empowerment of the dispossessed that accounts for the popularity of such images as the Anima Sola in Latin America. Symbolizing the lost soul seeking redemption, she commands respect for her act of self-sacrifice and her submission to the fire of purification.

For Mendieta the fire that both consumed and animated provided the vital force that would release the soul. Beginning in the summer of 1978, Mendieta introduced a new series of burned silhouettes that brought to this scene of transformation the eroticism of the body and the return of the body to the earth. Narrowing and hollowing out the silhouette form into a deep recess, Mendieta transformed the outline of the figure into a shape suggesting a womb or vulva. Lining the form with sulfur or gunpowder, Mendieta then ignited the piece and photographed it.

In the short-lived 1979 Volcán series, Mendieta further emphasized this notion of the earth as the primordial source of female sexuality and power, transforming the silhouette into a volcano-like crater filled with live coals that emitted massive amounts of smoke. Mendieta, who had been reading about the idea of "mythical geology" in Robert Goldwater's book Primitivism in Modern Art, wrote, "There is no original substance nor a part to redeem. There is a void, the orphanhood, the earth of the beginning, unbaptized. There is above all the search for origin. Nature: the matrix of eros, the hotbed of the gods.
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The following is from "North American Women Artists of the Twentieth Century" by Jules and Nancy G. Heller:

Born in Havana, Cuba, Ana Mendieta was a multi faceted body artist whose work was centered in women's concerns including rape and expressed through performances and conceptual art. Often she covered her body with mud and grasses and referenced santeria images from her childhood.

She earned BA (1969), and MA of Fine Arts (1972) degrees from the University of Iowa, and her performances and exhibitions were widespread in the United States, Europe and Central and South America. She held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship and a Prix de Rome fellowship from the American Academy in Rome.
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Note: Her life ended in a fall from a New York skyscraper, and this resulted in a trial where her companion, sculptor Carl Andre, was exonerated from the charges of pushing her out the window.









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