Blood and Fire: Ana Mendieta

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Blood and Fire: Ana Mendieta

Ana Mendieta's story is one in which her tragically short life is constantly revisited through works created during a prolific 13 year career. Frankly, her work isn't resurrected enough, although Galerie Lelong has shown Mendieta's work twice in the last two years. When liberated from temporary burials of acid-free storage, her ideas communicate a vivid innovation that can't yet be easily categorized.

Evolving from two distinct movements from the 1960s — earth art and body art — Mendieta synthesized her influences with considerable measure and genuine expression, forming what she termed a "dialogue between the landscape and the female body's return to the maternal source." Mendieta developed her "earth body works" out of a complex emotional landscape rooted in political exile.

Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Silueta Series, Mexico), 1976. Estate print 1991, color photograph, 20 x 16 inches (50.8 x 40.6 cm). Copyright The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection. Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York.

Ana Mendieta entered the United States from Cuba at the age of 12 in 1961, through Operation Pedro Pan, a program created by the Catholic Welfare Bureau of Miami in 1960. Operation Pedro Pan was developed in response to Cuban parents seeking to distance their children from Marxist-Leninist directives in Cuba. By 1961, the U.S. Department of State waived visa requirements for unaccompanied minors on commercial flights to Miami, enabling Cuban parents to send their children directly to foster centers in Miami.

Relocated to foster care in Iowa, this is how Ana Mendieta left Havana, under the aid of the United States Catholic Church. I've always been fascinated by Early Christianity's methodology for absorbing pagan imagery and rites, which contributed to Christianity's rapid expansion. After all, it is easier to convert large groups by fusing existing imagery into a greater canon. But Catholicism's emphasis on the physical body (salvation through suffering) differs from pagan/earth-based notions of invoking transformation through physical performance. Mendieta intentionally appropriates Catholic form with the performative spiritual language of Afro-Cuban, Amerindian and Mesoamerican rites.

Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Silueta Series), 1980. Lifetime black and white photograph, 8 x 10 inches

Comments [7]

Conlite's picture

I find these pictures very

I find these pictures very evocative, but not always sure why.  I think I'll need to take Grace's femminist art history course.  Anyway, art-neanderthal enjoyed this blog!

patricia's picture

there's nothing to it!

Hi Conlite,

I think a viewer either connects with a work/message or not. People take art too seriously—it's meant to be enjoyed! Sometimes I connect with a work or a body of work on many levels, and with some pieces (even by the same artist) I don't understand, either at all, right away, or ever. Appreciating art is really a private conversation, where judgement doesn't enter, and knowledge can sometimes impair the visceral. 

I think a good piece of art will allow us to unlearn all we've learned and see something new. Not knowing why you like something...that's really a fertile place to be, and one of priviledge: you have the most to learn from the experience you create out of it. Does that make sense? It's all good...


Grace Moon's picture


So this show was gripping and mind blowing, and I thank you for introducing me to her work.

Its amazing that not more is known of her outside of New York. My feminist art education is soooo lacking.

tweet tweet @gracemoon

patricia's picture

no way...

Grace, lacking in what exactly? Most of the painters you mentioned, I was like "who...?"


Grace Moon's picture

oy vay

between you and I maybe we can come up with a feminist art history curriculum?

oh and thanks for the term "mandorla" I am going to start using it. Wink

tweet tweet @gracemoon

patricia's picture

That's a great idea. Maybe

That's a great idea. Maybe that could be a like Great Public Curriculum Project or something, where...everyone can freely "graduate" to the next part of the timeline...Grace, that's an awesomely ambitious thought. Count me in.

: )

patricia's picture


duplicate post...sorry!