American sculptor, performance artist, video artist and painter of Cuban birth. From the age of 13, when she was sent to the USA from Cuba by her parents, she lived in orphanages and foster homes in Iowa. Her sense of exile and the separation from her family proved strong motivating forces on her later work. After completing an MA in painting at the University of Iowa in 1972, she entered the university’s new Multimedia and Video Art programme, in which she was free to experiment and develop a unique formal language, gaining an MFA in 1977.
In the 1970s Mendieta began to create ‘earth-body sculptures’ outdoors in Iowa, using the primal materials of blood, earth, fire and water, having first executed performances that she documented in photographs or black-and-white films. In the Silueta series she traced or sculpted the image of her body on the ground, using ignited gunpowder, leaves, grass, mud, stones, other natural elements or cloth. She visited Mexico in 1971 (and again in 1973, 1974, 1976 and 1978) and Cuba in 1980 and 1981, thus re-establishing her connections with Latin America and stimulating her interest in the Afro-Caribbean Santería religion. Her Rupestrian Sculptures, carved in the rocks at the Escaleras de Jaruco in Cuba, refer to primitive goddess images.
Mendieta married Carl André in 1975 and lived from 1978 in New York. In 1983 she went to Rome on an American Academy Fellowship. There she created her first permanent objects in a studio setting. She extended and refined the principles of her early work in floor sculptures representing generalized female shapes, delicate and elegant drawings on leaves and bark paper, and large-scale sculptures in which her characteristic abstracted female silhouettes were burnt into tree trunks. Her feelings of alienation, which resulted not only from her exile but from her sense of being marginalized as a Latin American woman, were channelled into powerful, magical and poetic work. André was charged with her murder but acquitted.
Susan S. Weininger
From Grove Art Online
© 2009 Oxford University Press