The Farber Collection
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Ana Mendieta

About Ana Mendieta

1948-1985, resided in the United States

Ana Mendieta’s arrival in Cuba in January of 1980—eighteen years after her departure during “Operation Pedro Pan”—was preceded by a political event: a meeting held in 1978 by the Cuban government and a group representing the so-called “community of Cuban emigrants abroad.” As a consequence of that unprecedented dialogue, U.S. and Cuban regulations were changed to permit Cubans living in the United States to travel to the island.

Mendieta attended the 1978 meeting as part of a youth group gathered around the Antonio Maceo Brigade and Areíto magazine. She returned to Cuba on numerous occasions, and her presence served as a catalyst at a crucial moment in defining the direction of Cuban art: the emergence of the Volumen I generation in the early 1980s. “She had a special interaction with José Bedia, Ricardo Brey, and Juan Francisco Elso... Ana’s work, although coming from the new performance and feminist art of the 1970s, shared the same perspective with those young artists, with the introduction of elements of Afro-Cuban religiosity. She, whose work was already so clearly defined, was an artistic influence for them, and at the same time she received a strong cultural influence” (Mosquera, 2003, 267). It was an encounter as fruitful as it was energetic. Coming from apparently different cultural backgrounds, the artists from the island and a Cuban from the diaspora rose above all demagogic definitions of national identity as well as quaint, “Made in Hollywood” cultural formulations. Stereotypical images of maracas, drums, palm trees, colorful roosters, and Latin lovers were replaced by a fluid conception that internalized the (African) religious components of popular culture and resignified them through contemporary art.

Beyond the Esculturas rupestres (Rupestrian Sculptures) that she carved at Escaleras de Jaruco and Varadero Beach in 1981, the presence of this petite woman left a personal imprint as well. Her renewed links with the island made Mendieta a promoter of the cultural “thawing” between Cuba and the United States. Thanks to her enthusiasm, critics and artists such as Rudolf Baranik, Lucy Lippard, and Carl André visited the island, exchange programs between Cuban artists and American universities were created, and works by Keith Haring, Barbara Kruger, Hans Haacke, Faith Ringold, Carl André, May Stevens, and Mel Edwards, among others, were donated to the collections of Cuban cultural institutions.

Mendieta assigned a healing role, both at the personal and symbolic level, to the ephemeral interventions that she staged and photographed: silhouettes traced on the ground, ancestral marks made on sand or trees, and manipulations of the elemental energies of water and fire. The obsessive search for a ritual union with nature, achieved through a true austerity of means, attempted to compensate for the psychological damage sustained in her personal biography: the trauma of the rootlessness created by her exile when she was little more than a teenager. In the United States, Mendieta herself had been a Cuban island, isolated in the sea of an alien culture.

To lie down and imprint her ghostly presence on the ground implied, above all, her reunion with a country from whose center she had been extirpated by History; a mutual embrace with a Cuban nation that still segregated with equal distrust exiles and Catholics, Santeros and homosexuals, freethinkers and utopians, branding them all as practitioners of “improper behavior.” For Cuban art, which was just getting over the traumas caused by cultural bureaucratization (the five-year “Gray Period”), Mendieta’s performance work was unprecedented and indispensable. It has resonated deeply with artists of later generations, such as Marta María Pérez, Magdalena Campos-Pons, Tania Bruguera, Sandra Ramos, DUPP, and the Enema group.

—Abelardo Mena Chicuri