Mendieta was a graduate student at the University of Iowa when she performed and recorded this work. Although she earned her master’s degree in painting, Mendieta also worked with photography, film, and performance. To make this piece, she distorted her appearance with cosmetics, wigs, and various facial expressions, creating these transformations with only the camera as her audience. One of her earliest works, it engages with issues—including self-representation, corporeality, female identity, and the nature of beauty—that she continued to explore for the rest of her career.
Mendieta had moved to Iowa with her sister at age twelve through Operation Pedro Pan, which brought to the United States more than fourteen thousand unaccompanied Cuban children whose parents were fearful of their future after the Cuban Revolution. The girls lived in residential institutions and foster homes and were not reunited with their family until years later; Mendieta did not return to Cuba until 1980. Her later art addresses her sense of displacement in what she called “earth-body works” and “earth-body sculptures.” In the Silueta series (1973–80), Mendieta made body imprints and silhouettes of herself from organic materials such as leaves, twigs, and blood, which she placed on grass, sand, and other earthen supports, exploring indigenous cultures, personal history, and humanity’s relationship to the land. She explained, “I have thrown myself into the very elements that produced me.”
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)