One of the most well known, and prominent figures in artistic photography is a Cuban refugee by the name of Ana Mendieta. As a performance artists, Ana was best known for her “earth-body” art work, which depicts her in various poses, seemingly experiencing a spiritual and physical connection with the Earth. Though she died under suspicious circumstances at the young age of 33, she will long be remembered by her numerous photographic collections as one who truly expressed their emotions through their work.
Born, November 18th, 1948, in Havana Cuba, Mendieta fled to the US at the age of 12 with her 14 year old sister, Raquelin. Her family was active in Cuban politics and when the alliance between Fidel Castro’s factions and Mendieta’s father turned sour in 1961, she was sent to live in the United States. Her family was imprisoned by the Castro regime leaving Ana and her sister to bounce around from refugee camps to foster homes in her early years. Her exile undoubtedly helped the development of her ensuing work.
Eventually, Mendieta attended the University of Iowa, where she was encouraged to express herself through her art and photography. Through the tutelage of acclaimed artist, Hans Breder, Ana began to make her mark on the artistic world, where she developed a Fluxus concept of “intermedia,” meaning art functioning in the space outside of or between traditional media.
This new concept can be seen in her Silueta works that were created in Mexico, 1973 (shown below).
Because of her subsequent exile, Ana did not identify with a particular homeland. Her Silueta series reveals her issues of displacement by recording the imprint of her body in various places throughout Mexico and filling them in with various materials such as twigs, rocks, and flowers, as well as gunpowder and even blood.
Mendieta’s work also often times focused on feminism and women’s rights. In protest of the rape and murder of fellow Iowa student, Sarah Ann Ottens, Mendieta performed, Death of a Chicken. Mendieta filmed herself completely nude, and cutting the head off of a chicken, causing the blood to splatter all over her nude body and the white wall behind her.
Needless to say, when Ana Mendieta wanted to make a statement, she did it big. Once the chicken was completely decapitated, she had helpers tie her to a table to represent the helplessness that her classmate Sarah Ann Ottens must have felt shortly before she was killed.
Unfortunately, Ana’s life was tragically cut short. On September 8, 1985, her body was recovered one evening in New York City, after having fallen 33 stories onto the roof of a deli. Her neighbors reported hearing an explosive argument take place between Ana and her then husband and sculptor, Carl Andre.
Though Andre was charged with the murder of Ana Mandieta, he was subsequently acquitted due to lack of evidence and eye witnesses.
In 2009 Mendieta was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Cintas Foundation, one of the highest and most prestigious awards in the art world. Ana may be gone, but she will always be remembered through her incredible, yet controversial pieces of art and photography.