Havana, Cuba, (1940) – New York, United States, (1985)

The work of Cuban artist Ana Mendieta calls into question dominant interpretations of human existence. Through a series of bodily actions in relation to natural elements, Mendieta embodied a situated knowledge and a durational temporality associated with the rhythms of nature and human rituals, and explored representation at the intersection of personal stories and organic elements. In the context of this exhibition, her work represents an important precursor to artistic actions and critical thinking today in which the body and the feminine express the intrinsic nature of the human. In the 1978 video work Silueta de Arena, the artist merges with the landscape through a silhouette of sand that is slowly carried away by water. The work is part of the ‘earth-body’ performances, where the artist lays directly on the earth to make such silhouettes, revealing her interests in ritual dimensions of artmaking and in the perception of the earth as sacred space. The photographic series Burial Pyramid extends the artist’s critical practice and relational methodology with respect to the natural world also to notions of memory and archaeology. Made in the archeological site of Yagul, Mexico in the summer of 1974, Mendieta merged her body with the earth as a material testimony of the historical presence of an Aztec tomb.  The fragmentary narratives of these works evoke an organic and spiritual precarity within material traces. Archeological sites, soil, earth, water, blood, all intermingle in the endurance and disappearance of Mendieta’s body as spiritual imprint, figuring the energetic transmissions of nature’s cycles of existence. It was during her childhood in Cuba that she first became fascinated by the art of early human cultures; Mendieta stated in 1978:


‘It seems as if these cultures are provided with an inner knowledge, a closeness to natural sources. And it is this knowledge which gives reality to the images they have created. It is this sense of magic, knowledge, and power that has influenced my personal attitude toward art making…Using my body as a reference in the creation of the works, I am able to transcend myself in a voluntary submersion and a total identification with nature.’