Ana Mendieta is Cubana

Ana Mendieta is Cubana...

Yes, this is well-known...it is right there next to her name in Wikipedia. (Well, it actually says 'Cuban-American' which is not synonymous with my usage of the term, Cuban-American actually referring to first-generation Americans born of Cuban parents). Ana is actually Cuban-born, she just studied, worked and lived most of her life in the U.S.

Regardless, her heritage is no secret and although she described her work as 'earth body' works, her work is unique for its hybridity of media and very often cross-categorized under many art movements of the late 1960s and 70s, namely 'Land Art', 'Earthworks', 'Body Art', 'Performance Art' and 'Feminist Art.' She is perhaps most popularly known for her series titled 'Silueta' or 'Silhouette' in which she leaves a physical tracing or indentation of her body upon the earth's surface. Her work assimilates issues of race, gender, cultural and spiritual identity and although it fits neatly within the definitions of many of the art movements mentioned above, her impetus to creating this type of work is usually not fully stated or perhaps understood. 

But the other day, upon seeing her work, I had an epiphany and put two and two together. It all of a sudden occurred to me that Ana Mendieta is Cubana! In other words, she isn't Cuban and does this type of work, she does this type of work because she is cuban! This late realization perhaps happened because when I first studied and read about her in art history classes, she was imbedded within the context of art movements.

In 1961, at the age of 12, Mendieta was sent to the US. under the auspices of Operation Pedro Pan. This program between the Catholic Church and the Cuban and American governments separated 14,000 Cuban children from their families and transplanted them in the United States. This program was set up because Cuban parents living on the island did not want their children to grow up under the indoctrination and ideology of Castro's Communist regime and therefore sent them unaccompanied to live in the United States. The program ended when all commercial flights between Cuba and the United States ceased after the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. It is still the largest recorded exodus of unaccompanied minors in the western hemisphere.

So at an early age, Ana Mendieta and her sister were torn from her family and homeland and sent to live in foster homes in Iowa. Needless to say this must have been a very traumatizing experience, not simply because of finding oneself in a place without friends and family at a crucial period in one's youth, but one of also complete social and cultural alienation living amongst a foreign language and landscape. 

Once one can empathize with the trauma and alienation something like this may cause during the developmental stages of adolescence, it becomes increasingly clear why Mendieta would choose and execute the work that she did. Her ritualistic relationship with the 'earth' can be attributed with a cathartic exercise of salving a longing for place and tierra. With the series 'Silueta', Ana Mendieta finally becomes 'one' with the tierra she more than likely pined for during her youth. The earth not only symbolizes nature/planet but also family/identity.

We can also see the attributes of this feeling of displacement with her much earlier work the 'self-portraits'. Here she puts on the guises of other identities as a way to communicate and question her true self.

Several examples of Ana Mendieta's 'self-portrait' series which extended to include her donning facial hair and distorting her body.

I now look at Ana Mendieta's work and I no longer see work in which the earth and the artworks are inextricably linked but rather I see work in which identity and the land are.

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