Ana Mendieta lays it bare in her images

Although Ana Mendieta may be internationally renowned in art circles, this does not necessarily purport that her life and images are entirely well known. In Miami, however, it is a different story. The current MAM exhibit, entitled Ana Mendieta: Earth Body, Sculpture and Performance, 1972-85, is a reunion of sorts, as many of her works were actually created on Miami grounds. An exhibition of her works, utilizing materials indigenous to the Miami region, was even shown at the Lowe Art Museum in 1982. And before that, Mendieta had created works in Key Biscayne as well as in Little Havana.

Mendieta, a Cuban-born artist, was one of 14,000 cuban children who, in 1961-without her parents-left Cuba after Fidel Castro’s revolution . Placed in St. Mary’s Home in Dubuque, Iowa, Mendieta and her sister were later placed in foster care. Miami served as a stopover en route to her homeland.

Mendieta’s forms, photos, sculptures, videos fit into a category of art aptly titled body art or performance art. According to MAM’s brochure, “‘body art’ became a primary mode of expression for artists who worked across media and used film and video to document ephemeral actions in the gallery, on the street or in the landscape.'”

Defying classification, Mendieta deviates from the norm in her art.

Her trademark iconic image is the curvature of the female form. Her seeming obsession with such a symbol and the use of the earth as the backdrop of her art collides, and the curvature of a tree becomes the hourglass shape of a woman. These are the images, but it is the emotion with which these images are imbued though that makes it art.

Mendieta unabashedly wears her vulnerability, which perhaps is one of the keys to her success. She expresses what we don’t, can’t or won’t show emotionally in real life. She lays it bare. Her tragedy in life becomes something nearing at least useful by putting it on display for others to connect with. Mendieta is not embarrassed to exhibit her desperation: In one video, she stands nude, pouring animal blood over her body, subsequently rolling her body in and among a pile of feathers. She exudes her fascination for the female nude in every work, its naked form exuding a vulnerability that is not promiscuous, but tragic.

Her signature work is a series of silhouettes, the Silueta series, and as the title suggests, it is a series of the female silhouettes molded into the dirt of various regions, mostly made in Iowa and Mexico. The silhouettes reference Mexican iconology and goddess portraiture, as well as better known Catholic ritual behaviors as she sets them alight, sometimes with gunpowder, sometimes with blood.

At the age of 36 in 1985, Mendieta died controversially in a fall from a window of her high rise apartment building in Greenwich Village. The reasons for her death remain a mystery. Her work, a reflection and portrayal of an exiled culture, resonates profoundly with many today.

Ana Mendieta: Earth Body, Sculpture and Performance, 1972-85 runs from Oct. 2 to Jan. 15, 2006 at the Miami Art Museum (MAM). MAM is located at 101 West Flagler Street.

Melanie Klesse can be contacted at