“My art is grounded on the belief in one universal energy which runs through everything; from insect to man, from man to spectre, from spectre to plant, from plant to galaxy.” Ana Mendieta (35).
Anima Silueta De Coheres (soul, silhouette of fireworks, 1976, displayed above) is a burning goddess which bares strong resemblance to the now famous Burning Man festival finale. The goddess silhouette was lite a blaze at night and was installed with fireworks like a castillo of Mexico. The image is amazing, the documentation on Super 8 Color Film and 35mm slides are haunting and powerful. The image of the burning goddess in the desert at night perhaps portrays the Anima of Ana Mendieta, herself.
“I have been carrying on a dialogue between the landscape and the female body (based on my own silhouette). I believe this to be a direct result of my having been torn away from my homeland during adolescence. I am overwhelmed by the feeling of having been cast from the womb (nature). My art is the way I reestablish the bonds that tie me to the universe.” Ana Mendieta (47).
Her works honor the divine feminine through the goddess image and the natural world. The Goddess Silhouettes, earthworks, sculptures and performances symbolize the creative, fertility of the divine feminine and the power and beauty inherent in the earth. This link with the natural world in her works points to the way in which the natural world is life and is our sustainer. She uses her own body to outline and create the various manifestations of the goddess symbol. Covering herself in mud, blood, feathers, plants or outlining her silhouette in earth and other materials are common in her art. Often her works involved transformation of the body into a bird, tree, a man or fire; she used explosives, candles, fireworks, mini volcanoes and animal sacrifice in her art.
The documentation of her performances and installations is beautiful and stands in fine art galleries and collections worldwide. Olga M. Viso writes, “In her tactile, visceral films, we are brought close to the combustive material form of each silueta, as mud, water, flowers, gunpowder, cracked earth, tiny volcanoes, blood , candles, fire, smoke and charred remains erupt and burn on screen, creating the most metaphysical artists’ films of the 1970’s” (221).
Ana Medieta was moved from Cuba to Iowa, USA on Sept 11, 1961 due to political upheaval and the Bay of Pigs. She was a young girl at the time of deportation, her sisters and her felt abandoned and isolated in Iowa. She later attended the University of Iowa for art and became a part of the acclaimed Intermedia Arts program headed by Hans Breder. She developed an interest in spiritualism especially ritual performances. This was linked to her search for her spiritual ancestral roots in Cuba, where Afro-Cuban religions still thrived.
The Afro-Cuban use of ritual, ceremony, spirits and other spiritual energies became infused into her work. She also became fascinated by ancient religions, mythologies, and indigenous traditions. She explains that indigenous cultures have, “an inner knowledge, a closeness with natural resources.” Ana Mendieta ( 45). “Juan Sanchez explained about her, Mendieta drew on the language and iconography of African, Afro-Cuban and later Taino (amerindian) ritual traditions, reinventing them and turning them into something that was a “reflection of herself… Carolee Schneemann similarly described Mendieta’s appropriation of ritual traditions as a drawing of “psychic energies” and “physicalizes directions” from other cultures into her own sensibilities.” (66).
Followers of the traditions from which she was appropriating images warned that she may be invoking powers and spirits that she does not understand. Ana Mendieta herself became concerned about this saying that at a photo shoot she was mysteriously thrown from a tree and worried she was invoking these powerful forces. These spirits are very powerful and are approached in specific way outlined by ancient traditions worldwide; Ana Mendieta was not initiated into any of these traditions or their customs.
In one performance Ana Mendieta stands near the edge of a river in rural Iowa filmed and photographed by Hans Breder. The scene has the peaceful overtones of beautiful Iowa summers day. Suddenly, Ana Mendieta kills a chicken and covers herself in chicken blood and then casts her body in feathers. She has transformed into a bird reflecting a cross cultural symbol of transformation from human into a bird. the transformation of human into to bird represents shamanic flight into the spirit world. The performances themselves are not traditional ceremonies but rather are her own collage of elements from various world religions.
Ana Medieta’s art and life has sparked a great deal of discourse and controversy in the art world. The art world became divided by the issue of feminism in art, setting a fire storm of debates and conflicts. Her death at the age of thirty-six was due to a fall from the upper level of a building on September 8th 1985. The death was followed by a murder trial involving a then famous sculpture who was in the room at the time she died. In the midst of all this Ana Mendieta died mysteriously and following a long public trail no charges were filed.
Carol Scheemann has noted: “Ana became very uncomfortable when someone tried to confine her to a whole set of conditions either of spirit or body or feminist principals because she was more powerfully integrated.” (67). Ana Mendieta created some of the iconic images of the feminist movement but she transcended the feminist paradigm and cut to the core of the goddess archetype. She summoned and evoked the powers of the feminine and exposed the assaults on the earth and women worldwide in her art. She also established a place for the merging of ritual, ceremony, indigenous symbolism and fine art. Ana Mendieta’s artworks are the voice of the divine feminine crying out to the world and evoking the fire of transformation in our hearts and minds.
“My art is grounded on the belief in one universal energy which runs through everything; from insect to man, from man to specter, from specter to plant, from plant to galaxy.” Ana Mendieta (35).
By Transpersonal Spirit
Viso, Olga M. Ana Mendieta: Earth Body Sculpture and Performance, 1972 – 1985. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden Smithsonian Institution. Hatje Cantz Publishers. 2004.
Leeson, Lynn Hershman. W.A.R. Women Art Revolution ( DVD). Zeitgeist Films. 2012.