Blood and Fire: Ana Mendieta
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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