Ana Mendieta became known in the 1970s for her fusion of performance, feminist, and land art. Many of her performances were documented photographically and now exist as printed images. Using her own body in interaction with nature, Mendieta explored themes of transience and mortality, which have been seen in relation to her status as an exile from her native Cuba.

Mendieta began work on the Silueta series in 1973 while on a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, with her classmates in the Intermedia program at the University of Iowa and their instructor, Hans Breder. Mendieta became fascinated by Mexico, a country that reminded her of Cuba in its blending of the Old and New Worlds. For her first Silueta, Mendieta lay naked in a Zapotec tomb with white flowers strewn over her body. She went on to create more than one hundred Siluetas in Mexico and Iowa, covering her body with a wide range of substances, including rocks, blood, sticks, and cloth. She would then have a photograph taken of either her buried body or its imprint left in the materials. The works in the Silueta series suggest the fragility of the human being in relation to the forces of nature. They also subvert the convention of the female nude in art history. Instead of a male artist painting or sculpting a nude female model, the female artist controls the presentation of her own naked body, actively allowing or denying access to it.

Ana Mendieta is a key artistic figure of 1970s art and a point of reference for many of the artists represented in our collection. The Silueta series are among her most celebrated pieces and strengthen the ICA/Boston’s holdings of work by both female artists and artists of color.

2014.30.1–12

Gift of Barbara Lee, The Barbara Lee Collection of Art by Women