Ana Mendieta. Birth (Gunpowder Works). 1981. Gelatin silver print, 7 3/16 × 9 1/2" (18.3 × 24.1 cm). Gift of Helen Kornblum in honor of Roxana Marcoci. © 2021 Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection

“My art is grounded on the belief in one universal energy which runs through all being and matter, all space and time.”

Ana Mendieta

“To question our culture is to question our own existence, our human reality,” the artist Ana Mendieta once said. “This in turn becomes a search, a questioning of who we are and how we will realize ourselves.”1 Born in Cuba, Mendieta moved to Iowa at age 12 with her sister as part of a US government asylum program for adolescents after the Cuban revolution. Mendieta eventually enrolled at the University of Iowa and, upon completing her undergraduate degree, began her graduate studies in art. After training as a painter, Mendieta quickly grew dissatisfied with the medium and transitioned to the university’s new MFA in Intermedia program, where she began to develop her interdisciplinary work.

As a graduate student, Mendieta created her first performances, which survive through photographic documentation. These early works deal with the theme of violence against women, as Mendieta evokes the suffering of the female body.2 In Untitled (Glass on Body Imprints—face) (1972), Mendieta presses her face forcefully against a pane of glass at differing angles. Beyond demonstrating her bodily distress, the distortion of her face across the various images disturbs the work’s function as a portrait. In other words, Mendieta’s photographs of her face do not cohere as representative of herself, thereby disrupting how others view her and draw conclusions about her identity. Related to these concerns, Untitled (Facial Cosmetic Variations) shows Mendieta manipulating her appearance using make-up and wigs, in some instances lightening her skin and hair to call into question her racialization in the US.

In the Silueta series (1973–80), Mendieta staged performances where she laid down in natural landscapes or covered her body in organic materials and then documented the resulting imprints or silhouettes. Untitled (1978) shows a dark indentation made in a sandy landscape covered in scrub, the outline of her body suggesting its absence. These performances recall Mendieta’s experience as an exile who was separated from her homeland at a young age. In her Silueta performances she marked the land, leaving the trace of her absent body. This trace perhaps serves as a metaphor for her absence from her birthplace; she was unable to return to Cuba until the 1980s.3 A later work, the earthen sculpture Nile Born, lends Mendieta’s silhouette a physical form using organic materials—a wooden support covered in sand. Installed on the floor, the sculpture’s low profile allows the work to register as a physical manifestation of a shadow.

Throughout her career, Mendieta’s explorations of representation were grounded in an intersectional conception of identity where race, gender, age, and class operated simultaneously. “As non-white women, our struggles are two-fold,” Mendieta wrote in a curatorial statement for an exhibition of women artists of color. “This exhibition points not necessarily to the injustice or incapacity of a society that has not been willing to include us, but more towards a personal will to continue being ‘other.’”4

Note: Opening quote is from Ana Mendieta’s typewritten artist statement, unpublished papers, undated, the Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection Archives, Galerie Lelong, New York, NY.

Rachel Remick, 12-Month Modern Women’s Fund Intern, Department of Painting and Sculpture

The research for this text was supported by a generous grant from The Modern Women’s Fund.

  1. Ana Mendieta, Dialectics of Isolation (New York: A.I.R. Gallery, 1980) as quoted in Leticia Alvarado, “Chapter 1: Other Desires: Ana Mendieta’s Abject Imaginings,” in Abject Performances: Aesthetic Strategies in Latino Cultural Production (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018).

  2. Kelly Baum, “Shapely Shapelessness: Ana Mendieta’s *Untitled (Glass on Body Imprints: Face)*”, 1972, Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University 67 (2008): 80-93.

  3. Kaira M. Cabañas, “Ana Mendieta: ‘Pain of Cuba, Body I Am’,” Woman’s Art Journal 20, no. 1 (1999): 12-17.doi:10.2307/1358840. Mendieta also referenced other aspects of her Cuban heritage in the Siluetas series, including Santeria rituals and deities.

  4. Ana Mendieta, Dialectics of Isolation (New York: A.I.R. Gallery, 1980) as quoted in Leticia Alvarado.

Wikipedia entry
Ana Mendieta (November 18, 1948 – September 8, 1985) was a Cuban-American performance artist, sculptor, painter, and video artist who is best known for her "earth-body" artwork. She is considered one of the most influential Cuban-American artists of the post–World War II era. Born in Havana, Cuba, Mendieta left for the United States in 1961.Mendieta died on September 8, 1985, in New York City, after falling from her 34th-floor apartment. She lived there with her husband of eight months, minimalist sculptor Carl Andre. The circumstances surrounding her death have been the subject of controversy.
Information from Wikipedia, made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License
Getty record
Mendieta was born in Cuba but sent to America by her parents at age 13. She lived in foster homes and orphanages for the rest of her childhood. She received her MA in 1972 from the University of Iowa. In the 1970s, she began making 'earth-body sculptures,' employing primitive materials such as blood, earth, fire, and water. She documented her performances, which incorporated aspects of religion and magic, with photographs. In 1983, she went to Rome on an American Academy Fellowship. In 1985, her husband, the Minimalist sculptor Carl Andre, was charged with her death but acquitted.
American, Cuban
Artist, Painter, Performance Artist, Photographer, Sculptor, Video Artist
Ana Mendieta
Information from Getty’s Union List of Artist Names ® (ULAN), made available under the ODC Attribution License


30 works online



  • Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists Exhibition catalogue, Hardcover, 152 pages
  • MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art Flexibound, 408 pages
  • MoMA Now: Highlights from The Museum of Modern Art—Ninetieth Anniversary Edition Hardcover, 424 pages
  • Photography at MoMA: 1960 to Now Hardcover, 368 pages
  • The Original Copy: Photography of Sculpture, 1839 to Today Exhibition catalogue, Hardcover, 256 pages

If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

MoMA licenses archival audio and select out of copyright film clips from our film collection. At this time, MoMA produced video cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. All requests to license archival audio or out of copyright film clips should be addressed to Scala Archives at [email protected]. Motion picture film stills cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For access to motion picture film stills for research purposes, please contact the Film Study Center at [email protected]. For more information about film loans and our Circulating Film and Video Library, please visit

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication, please email [email protected]. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to [email protected].


This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to [email protected].