Related themes

Intersecting Identities

Artists often address their multiple, intersecting identities in a work of art.

The Body in Art

Discover how artists represent and use the body to investigate their relationships to gender and identity.

Nile Born

Ana Mendieta
(American, born Cuba. 1948–1985)

1984. Sand and binder on wood, 2 3/4 x 19 1/4 x 61 1/2" (7 x 48.9 x 156.2 cm)

Nile Born is a sculpture made of sand, overlaid on a wooden base and shaped to the scale and contour of the artist’s body. While Nile Born is meant to be installed in a gallery, Mendieta is also known for works in which she directly imprinted her body on the natural landscape and documented this action via photography or film.

The form of the female body in this sculpture is both specific and universal, based on the scale of Mendieta’s body but also serving as a symbol of every woman. As a Cuban American exiled from her home country for most of her life, Mendieta considered making art to be “the way I reestablish the bonds that unite me to the universe. It is a return to the maternal source.” The title is a nod to Cuba’s African heritage, a subject Mendieta often incorporated in her work.

Guy Brett, “One Energy,” in Olga M. Viso, Ana Mendieta: Earth Body, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC, 2004, p. 181

Art seeking to challenge the dominance of men in both art and society, to gain recognition and equality for women artists, and to question assumptions about womanhood. Beginning in the 1960s and 1970s, feminist artists used a variety of mediums—including painting, performance art, and crafts historically considered “women’s work”—to make work aimed at ending sexism and oppression and exposing femininity to be a masquerade or set of poses adopted by women to conform to societal expectations. While many of the debates inaugurated in these decades are still ongoing, a younger generation of feminist artists takes an approach incorporating intersecting concerns about race, class, forms of privilege, and gender identity and fluidity. Both feminism and feminist art continue to evolve.

An image, especially a positive print, recorded by exposing a photosensitive surface to light, especially in a camera.

A three-dimensional work of art made by a variety of means, including carving wood, chiseling stone, casting or welding metal, molding clay or wax, or assembling materials.

The outline of something.

A form, sign, or emblem that represents something else, often something immaterial, such as an idea or emotion.

The ratio between the size of an object and its model or representation, as in the scale of a map to the actual geography it represents.

A term that emerged in the 1960s to describe a diverse range of live presentations by artists, including actions, movements, gestures, and choreography. Performance art is often preceded by, includes, or is later represented through various forms of video, photography, objects, written documentation, or oral and physical transmission.

Artistic manipulation of the natural landscape, typically though not exclusively enacted on a large scale.

Dual Identities
Born in Cuba, Mendieta and her sister Raquel were sent to the United States to escape Fidel Castro’s regime at the ages of twelve and fourteen, respectively. There they lived in various foster homes in Iowa. Mendieta was unable return to her home country until she was thirty-one years old. Her dual identity as a Cuban living in the United States was at the center of her work: “I am between two cultures, you know?”1

Between Mediums
Mendieta used the term “earth-body” to describe her art. Often working directly in the land and creating pieces that disintegrated over time, her work straddled various artistic genres, including performance, body, and earthworks.

The Goddess Figure in Art
While images of goddesses have existed in many cultures around the world since prehistory, feminist artists and art historians developed a renewed interest in the universal female figure in the 1970s. The goddess archetype was appropriated as an empowering and unifying feminine symbol; more recently, such uses of the goddess archetype have been criticized as an oversimplification of women’s diverse identities.