Yet these works resist easy categorization in form or theme. The “Siluetas” are not self-portraits or performance pieces, except perhaps to the few who witnessed them. Each piece was subsumed by the earth, meaning photographs are the only remaining traces. Similarly, the thematic complexity of Mendieta’s life and these sculptures resist collapsing into neat categories of nation, diaspora, race, or gender. By using the body as both an image and medium, these aspects of identity are complicated. Mendieta’s earthworks occupy a liminal space between presence and absence, balancing the inevitable politicization of the self while searching for meaning in older, sacred traditions.
Before my diagnosis, I lived in a liminal space between what Susan Sontag called the kingdom of the well and the kingdom of the sick. I repeatedly Googled “pins and needles,” “burning,” and “fatigue” in order to decipher what was happening inside my body (an unquantifiable absence), which outwardly appeared able (a presence). These searches led me to forums, magazines, and artworks by people whose disabilities and chronic pain informed their art, as well as their personal narratives. After being told I had fibromyalgia, I found connection and support in these virtual kingdoms of the sick.