Iowa, NE | Oaxaca, Mexico | 1973-1985
“My art is the way I re-establish the bonds that unite me to the universe. It is a return to the maternal source. Through my earth/body sculptures, I become one with the earth.” – Ana Mendieta, 1981.
This FSA feature highlights Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta’s Silueta sculpture-performance series (1973 -1985). Raised Roman Catholic in Cuba, Ana Mendieta (1948-1985) grew up under the influence of multiple religious and cultural influences, learning about Santería from her nanny. Santería is a panthisitic Afro-Caribbean folk religion that evolved from overlapping practices between West African Yoruba religion and Roman Catholicism. It is about facilitating relationships between human beings and the Orishas, the guardians that provide aid and direction for a person’s life. Yoruba religion believes in a kind of destiny or fate, originating from mythology. It is not a text based religion, but one of oral tradition and rituals narrated by one’s ancestors. This belief in West African deities synchrestistically assimilated with the practice of praying to saints in the catholic tradition particularly as slaves sought to maintain their heritage and practice it safely under the guise of Christianity. The ceremonial and ritualistic traditions, with shrines and altars, water baptism and consumption of animal blood are indeed analogous to Christian practices. That said, Mendieta intentionally and self-consciously studied these practices as an adult to inform her hybrid sense of identity.
Together, these syncretistic rituals informed Mendieta’s approach to embodied and performance art.
Together, these syncretistic rituals informed Mendieta’s approach to embodied and performance art. The curator and author Nat Trotman introduces the intermedia of Mendieta’s practice through the article “Ana Mendieta Untitled: Silueta Series” for the Guggenheim’s Collection Online: “By fusing her interests in Afro-Cuban ritual and the pantheistic Santería religion with contemporary practices such as earthworks, body art, and performance art, she maintained ties with her Cuban heritage. Her Silueta (Silhouette) series (begun in 1973) used a typology of abstracted feminine forms, through which she hoped to access an ‘omnipresent female force.’ Working in Iowa and Mexico, she carved and shaped her figure into the earth, with arms overhead to represent the merger of earth and sky; floating in water to symbolize the minimal space between land and sea; or with arms raised and legs together to signify a wandering soul. These bodily traces were fashioned from a variety of materials, including flowers, tree branches, moss, gunpowder, and fire, occasionally combined with animals’ hearts or handprints that she branded directly into the ground.”