Tag Archives: earth-body work

Imagen de Yagul

Ana Mendieta, Imagen de Yagul. 1973. Source: Artstor

In an open Zapotec tomb in the ancient city of Yagul, Mexico, Mendieta’s naked body lays within the formation of rocks that encapsulate her. Her body is covered with white flowers and green leaves, whose density increases around her chest and face, making it difficult to discern her facial features amongst the cluster of flowers. Mendieta leaves the viewer with only the outer contours of her body, arms and legs to discern. This image, Imagen de Yagul, is the first in a series of silhouette portraits in which Mendieta traces the outline of her body in different locations between Mexico and Iowa. This particular piece differs from the other works in the series, in that her body is fully present here, rather than just represented as an ephemeral silhouette that marks where she once was. These locations are significant as they trace a personal journey between places that she identifies with. On a trip to Oaxaca she identified with the region’s “mixture of indigenous and European cultures with her own hybrid Cuban heritage “and she developed an appreciation for pre-Colombian iconography [1].

Ana Mendieta (1948-1985) was born in Cuba and immigrated to the United States with her sister at the age of twelve. As an artist, she plays a large role in the history of feminist art. Her work crossed multiple categories including land art, body art, and performance and her work addresses the ideological struggle of gender and race. Mendieta herself described her work as “earth-body work” and “earth-body sculptures”[1]. Her early work as a student at the University of Iowa addressed issues of gender formation, as in the performance Facial Hair Transplants (1972). In 1992 an exhibition featuring Mendieta’s widower (and accused and acquitted of her murder), Carl Andre, sparked a protest outside of the Guggenheim Museum on the exclusion of female artists in exhibitions and lack of women in powerful positions in art institutions. Protestors held signs reading, “Where is Ana Mendieta?” My own decision to write about the Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta is an expression of interest in addressing the underrepresentation of minority women in Gender and Art and the lack of focus on female artists who address issues of race more specifically in this publication.

Jane Blocker describes Imagen de Yagul as dealing with the “themes of death and rebirth staged in an earthen, womb-like cavity. Here, the category woman is sanctioned by the first woman, by Mother Earth, by the biology of childbirth.”[2] Mendieta uses her body as a channel to address issues of life, death, and regeneration, themes that she alluded to throughout her career. [3] The female body is represented in unison with nature, as creator and created. It is from her body that flowers sprout and flourish, symbolism that could be interpreted as a sign of fertility. Also significant is that Mendieta positions her body inside of a Meso-American tomb in Yagul, not far from the ancient city of Mitla that was designated in Zapotec culture as the place for the dead to rest.

What I find most intriguing about Mendieta’s work in general and about this piece specifically is the manner in which it identifies with a geographic identity. Ana Mendieta, represented as a Cuban-American artist, spent her early childhood in Cuba and was exiled to the United States, where she spent years bouncing from foster homes before settling in Iowa. Below, she speaks of her experience and feelings of displacement and the urge to connect to the earth:

I have been carrying on a dialogue between the landscape and the female body (based on my own silhouette). I believe this has been a direct result of my having been torn from my homeland during my adolescence. I am overwhelmed with the feeling of having been cast from the womb. My art is the way I re-establish the bonds that unite me to the universe. It is a return to the maternal source. [4]

Not identifying with one nation, Mendieta ventured to form a connection to the earth. In channeling Meso-American civilization, she was connecting to her roots through contact with the land, which created a deeper connection to the body. This physical involvement in the creation of her work is inseparable from the work itself. The strength in her works lies in its power to relate to and its ability to interact with the viewer. That the viewer cannot make out her face in this portrait allows for one to automatically situate herself in her position.

1. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/mendieta-untitled-silueta-series-mexico-t13357/text-summary

2.Blocker, Jane. Where Is Ana Mendieta? Duke University Press, 1999. Pg. 37

3. http://www.alisonjacquesgallery.com/exhibitions/12/overview/

4. Perreault, John. Ana Mendieta: A Retrospective. Exhibition catalogue. New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1987. Pg. 10