Noteworthy Acquisition:Work by Ana Mendieta

Nasher Sculpture Center
Dec 30, 2016 9:50PM

For the last twelve years I have been carrying on a dialogue between the landscape and the female body. Having been torn from my homeland (Cuba) during my adolescence, I am overwhelmed by the feeling of having been cast out from the womb (Nature).


My art is the way I reestablish bonds that unite me to the Universe. It is a return to the maternal source.


These obsessive acts of reasserting my ties with the earth are really a manifestation of my thirst for being. In essence, my works are the reactivation of primeval beliefs at work within the human psyche.


–    Ana Mendieta, 1983 

Thanks to the generous support of the Kaleta A. Doolin Acquisitions Fund for Women Artists, the Nasher Sculpture Center has purchased a group of works encompassing sculpture, photography, and video by the highly influential Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta (1948-1985). The acquisition represents a significant milestone for the Nasher as the first works by Mendieta to enter the collection. In addition to expanding the Nasher’s holdings in work by women artists, this acquisition further augments the representation in the collection of performance documented via photography and film. The scope of this acquisition ensures that the Nasher will be able to present a cross section of Mendieta’s career in a variety of media, and provide our viewers with a thorough presentation of her art. We welcome these works into the collection and look forward to exhibiting them at the Nasher.

In a career that spanned just over a decade, Mendieta produced a remarkable body of work that included ephemeral outdoor performances and creations documented in photographs, 35mm slides and Super 8 films, as well as sculpture and drawing, before her untimely death in 1985 at the age of 36. Rooted in nature and the body, Mendieta’s art fused both, and her legacy paved the way for artists of subsequent generations to create works involving identity politics, feminism, and performance. 

Born in Havana, Cuba to a politically distinguished family, Mendieta was a young witness to the Cuban Revolution of 1959 when Fidel Castro overthrew the Batista government. Mendieta’s father Ignacio was originally pro-Castro but quickly became disillusioned as Castro moved politically further and further left to align his principles with those of the Soviet Union and Communism. In 1961, Mendieta’s parents decided to send their daughters to the United States to avoid their children’s indoctrination in Communist ideology. At the age of 12, Mendieta and her two sisters were sent to live in Dubuque, Iowa by way of Miami. This experience was understandably jarring for Mendieta and her two sisters, and left an indelible impression on the artist, who would go on to make work in response to her feelings of exile, absence, identity, and the earth and its associations to the motherland. Mendieta studied painting and intermedia arts under Hans Breder at the University of Iowa. Through Breder’s encouragement, she moved away from painting into the more performative mode of working for which she is known today.  

Ana Mendieta Untitled, 1985 Wood and gunpowder 80 x 11 x 2 inches (204.5 x 28.6 x 3.8 cm). Nasher Sculpture Center, Acquired through the Kaleta A. Doolin Acquisitions Fund for Women Artists © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York  

Mendieta’s earth body sculptures—a series entitled Silueta, or silhouette, for which the artist combined the body (or its absence), performance, and the landscape—have garnered considerable critical attention and have been described as the core of her practice. These works were commonly achieved by Mendieta inserting her body into the landscape—either lying in repose on a field of grass, beneath a pile of flowers; within an earthen outline of her form, dug out of the ground; or among a pile of rocks on the side of an ancient pyramid—or constructing a surrogate form of herself directly on the land. In early Silueta works, Mendieta appears and uses her body to create the female form or imprint on the landscape; as the series progressed, her body was increasingly absent from the imagery, although its outline or imprint remained. Mendieta’s 1975 film Silueta Sangrienta (which translates to bleeding silhouette) represents a transitional moment in her Silueta series, as the artist’s body is both present and absent throughout the short silent film. 

Made in Iowa City, Iowa in 1975, the film documents the action of Mendieta embedding her nude body into the landscape. It begins with the artist lying on her back with her hands raised in a pose that recurs throughout her work; the scene then quickly changes to show the cavity of her body’s imprint on the land, filled with bright red blood. The final image is Mendieta’s body lying face down in the blood-filled imprint, uniting the body and its double in a glovelike fit. The only sense that time is passing is the subtle movement of water from a nearby stream that appears in the upper corner of the frame and the changes in light coming through the tree line and falling upon her recumbent form. Silueta Sangrienta is considered by some scholars to be part of a suite of four films classified as “actions” within the Silueta series, as they go beyond simple documentation of Mendieta’s creation of the silhouette form to represent a series of actions carried out by the artist throughout the time-based work.

 Like many artists involved in Land Art, performance, and body art, Mendieta documented her actions via secondary media as a way to communicate the fleeting nature of her work. For this reason, much of what remains of Mendieta’s oeuvre is in the secondary media of photography, photographic slides, and film. Mendieta was a prolific filmmaker, making more than 80 films throughout her lifetime—more than any other artist in the 1970s. 

The pair of photographs titled Untitled (Maroya) of 1982 relate to later works from Mendieta’s Silueta series with the repetition of the figure upon the landscape and the absence of the artist’s body within the image. Between the two photographs, Mendieta has captured the action or making of the work (igniting an earthen form shaped in gunpowder) and the resulting ephemeral silhouette (the cavity of the burned-out gunpowder on the earth). The title of the photographs comes from indigenous Caribbean mythology— Maroya represents the Moon Spirit and was considered by the Taíno (Amerindian culture indigenous to Cuba and the Greater Antilles) to be the link between Divine Woman and human women. Made during a visit to Cuba in the early 1980s, these photographs represent Mendieta’s continuation of the Silueta theme in her work, as well as a symbolic return to her homeland as referenced in the title taken from indigenous Cuban culture. Though photographs, the two objects are sculptural in their making, with Mendieta creating the works through the physical gestures of carving and mark-making directly on the land. 

In the final two years of her life, Mendieta progressed from documenting ephemeral performances and interventions in the landscape to making discrete objects. These retained many of the key attributes of her earlier art, notably the fusion of earth and body that dominated her visual vocabulary throughout her career. Mendieta’s Untitled, a wood and gunpowder sculpture from 1985, is one of a group of six wooden slab sculptures the artist made while living in Rome in the final year of her life. Through the burning of gunpowder, Mendieta imprinted a female form onto the surface of the tree trunk. The result is a powerful totemic sculpture that subtly references performance (in the creation of the sculpture), the female form (as burned into the wood by gunpowder), and the connection to nature. 

Works by Mendieta are incredibly rare and only a limited number are available for acquisition.This opportunity—made possible by the Kaleta A. Doolin Fund for Work by Women Artists—marks what could be considered a once-in-a-lifetime occasion for the Nasher to acquire work by this revolutionary and important artist. 

by Leigh Arnold, Ph.D. Assistant Curator, Nasher Sculpture Center

Ana Mendieta Silueta Sangrienta (Bleeding Silhouette), 1975 Super 8mm film transferred to high-definition digital media, color, silent Running time: 1:51 minutes. Nasher Sculpture Center, Acquired through the Kaleta A. Doolin Acquisitions Fund for Women Artists © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York  

Ana Mendieta Untitled (Maroya), 1985 Lifetime black and white photograph 10 x 8 inches (24.5 x 20.3 cm). Nasher Sculpture Center, Acquired through the Kaleta A. Doolin Acquisitions Fund for Women Artists © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York  

Ana Mendieta Untitled (Maroya), 1982 Lifetime black and white photograph 10 x 8 in. (25.4 x 20.3 cm). Nasher Sculpture Center, Acquired through the Kaleta A. Doolin Acquisitions Fund for Women Artists © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York  

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