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Ana Mendieta: Earth Body, Sculpture and Performance
Ana Mendieta. Untitled (Body Tracks), 1974. Copyright of the Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York.

WASHINGTON, D.C.- The Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, presents the most comprehensive survey to date of over 100 works by Cuban-born artist Ana Mendieta (1948-1985). "Ana Mendieta: Earth Body, Sculpture and Performance 1972-1985," organized by the museum’s deputy director Olga Viso, is on view at the Hirshhorn through Jan. 2, 2005. The exhibition examines Mendieta’s life and development as an artist.

"For decades, the life and art of Ana Mendieta have been a frequent source of intrigue and speculation as considerable debate about her untimely death has dominated public and critical discussion. As a result, the richness and complexity of her art, as well as its important legacy to contemporary culture, have not been fully acknowledged," said Viso. "This exhibition decidedly shifts the focus to Mendieta’s life and significant production as an artist and places it in a broad international context as well as the social and artistic fabric of the 1970s and 1980s."

The exhibition traces the artist’s development from the early performance-based works she made as a student at the University of Iowa, where she was grounded in the conceptual and body-oriented practices of the 1960s and 1970s, to the creation of independent sculptures and objects made with fragile, earthen materials in the early 1980s. The objects on view include photographs, drawings, sculptures and film documenting early performance works and time-based actions in nature. The works are drawn from numerous public and private collections in the United States and Europe, as well as from the Hirshhorn’s own significant holdings of Mendieta’s art, including many pieces rarely seen in public.

Rooted both in nature and in the body, Mendieta’s art was influenced by issues of personal identity and femininity, and distinguished by the singular hybrid form she often created. Her earth-body works or "Silueta Series" (silhouette series)—sculptural interventions in the landscape wherein the artist inserted her naked figure (or its outline or contours) in a natural setting—fused aspects of conceptual, process, performance, body, feminist and land art. While contributing significantly to these varied dialogues, Mendieta’s work does not fit neatly within any of the accepted terms used to describe artistic activity in the 1970s.

Embracing the ambitions of feminism, Mendieta quietly subverted the monumental gestures of male land artists such as Robert Smithson and Walter de Maria by working on and emphasizing the human scale in relation to the landscape. Critical of the exclusion of artists of diverse races and ethnicities from the art world, she also vehemently asserted her own transcultural identity. Borrowing freely from a variety of cultural traditions throughout the world, Mendieta frequently appropriated symbols and aspects of the ritual practices of ancient and indigenous cultures of the Americas, Africa and Europe. While denying all forms of boundaries, Mendieta’s cipher—the naked female form that performs in the studio, merges with the landscape, is etched on a leaf or is burned into the soil or a tree trunk—remained at the center of her production.

Born in 1948 in Havana, Mendieta fled Castro’s revolution as a 12-year-old and came to the United States in 1961 without her parents. Her personal and professional development was greatly informed by the painful experience of exile as well as the cross-fertilization of Caribbean and North American cultures. In 1980, she returned to the island of her birth, 18 years after her traumatic exile as an adolescent. Over the next three years, Mendieta made seven visits to Cuba, developing strong ties with a community of emerging artists and immersing herself in the island’s rich Afro-Cuban traditions. She also served as an important conduit of information between the Cuban and North American art worlds. To this day, Ana Mendieta remains the only Cuban expatriate from the United States to have participated fully in Cuban national exhibitions.

While deeply rooted in her personal experience, Mendieta’s art reveals a passionate desire to connect with a wider, collective human heritage. She sought to unravel the collective layers of individual and societal history and unmask the latent ethnic, cultural and gender biases in society, thereby fostering greater self-awareness and comprehension of the complex diversity of humanity. It is for this reason that her humble yet prolific production as an artist continues to be relevant today. The meaning of her work has particular resonance in a global society struggling to grasp the overwhelming points of correspondence and difference between individuals, nations and cultures.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated, 288-page catalogue co-published by the Hirshhorn and Hatje Cantz Verlag in Ostfildern, Germany, and distributed by Distributed Art Publishers in New York. The publication is the most definitive monograph produced to date on the work of Ana Mendieta and contains biographical, analytical and interpretive essays by Olga Viso, curator of the exhibition; Chrissie Iles, curator of contemporary art, Whitney Museum of American Art; art historian Julia Herzberg; and art critic Guy Brett. Additionally, art historian Laura Roulet contributed an extensive chronology of the artist’s life and career.

"Ana Mendieta: Earth Body, Sculpture and Performance 1972-1985" is made possible by The Henry Luce Foundation; the Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Center for Latino Initiatives; The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; Bruce T. Halle Family Foundation; and The Judith Rothschild Foundation. Initial research was supported by Craig Robins and a Curatorial Research Fellowship from the Getty Grant Program. Additional support for the exhibition catalog was made possible through the generosity of Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz and Isabel and Ricardo Ernst.

Following its presentation at the Whitney Museum of American Art (July 1-Sept. 19) and at the Hirshhorn, the Mendieta exhibition continues its tour at the Des Moines Art Center (Feb. 25-May 22, 2005) and the Miami Art Museum (Oct. 2, 2005-Jan. 15, 2006).

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