Ana Mendieta, ‘Untitled (Amategram)’, 1981, Heritage Auctions
Ana Mendieta, ‘Untitled (Amategram)’, 1981, Heritage Auctions

Framed: 24.5in x 19.5in x 1.5in

The Cuban-born, multi-media feminist artist Ana Mendieta gained international renown during the 1970s for her "earth-body" performance-sculptures; in these, she caked her own nude body with natural substances like mud, blood, leaves, grass, or sand and then photographed herself in an austere gallery setting or integrated into a landscape. In 1981 in New York, Mendieta started several series of drawings that continued her fascination with the intersecting themes of the female body and nature. Both of the present untitled works belong to the "Amategram" series, in which she drew or painted totemic shapes onto amate, paper made from bark by Mexico's Otomie Indians. Here, each of the black forms connotes a fertile female-the one above, a Venus-of-Willendorf-like talisman with head, pendulous breasts, and fleshy torso, and the one opposite, a rounded female form with a spiraling womb; Mendieta simultaneously contrasts the heavy black paint with the soft, grainy paper and enmeshes the female form into the paper, much like her earth-body sculptures. The abstracted female figures of the "Amategrams" also recall those in her outdoor "mud coil" or "labyrinth" sculptures made from excavated earth. Mendieta purposefully chose the amate-made by boiling mashed bark and then pounding it flat with a rock--for its earth tones (ranging from light tan to deep coffee), earth symbolism, and reference to indigenous art. Mendieta's life was hard, successful, and tragically short. With her two sisters, she fled Cuba at age 13 in 1961 and ricocheted from orphanage to foster home until she was old enough to study art in college, ultimately obtaining her MA in 1972 from the University of Iowa. In 1983, she received the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome, and she has been recognized posthumously in solo exhibitions at the New Museum, New York; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Her work--exuberantly feminine, earthy, ephemeral, and intimate-is often seen as a foil to the monumental Minimalist sculpture of her husband, Carl Andre, who was acquitted of her murder after she fell from the window of their apartment in 1985.

Image rights: Courtesy of Heritage Auctions

The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection; Galerie Lelong, New York.

About Ana Mendieta

An influential artist best known for her “earth-body” performances, as she called them, Ana Mendieta explored her identity as a female emigrant in work that also encompassed photography, film, and sculpture. Exiled from Cuba at the age of 12 and sent to an orphanage in Iowa, 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.

American, Cuban b., 1948-1985, Havana, Cuba, based in New York, New York