The photographs of Ana Mendieta document private sculptural performances enacted in the landscape to invoke and represent the spirit of renewal inspired by nature and the power of the feminine. In her Silueta series (begun in 1974), created on location in Iowa and Mexico, Mendieta carved and shaped her own figure into the earth to leave haunting traces of her body fashioned from flowers, tree branches, mud, gunpowder, and fire. A typology of Siluetas emerged, including figures with arms held overhead to represent the merging of earth and sky; floating in water to symbolize the minimal space between land and sea; and with arms raised and legs together to signify a wandering soul. By 1978, the Siluetas gave way to ancient goddess forms carved into rock, shaped from sand, or incised in clay beds.
An exile from Cuba, Ana Mendieta was sent from her native homeland to an orphanage in Iowa at age 12. This traumatic experience had a tremendous impact on her art. She felt that, through her art, her interactions with nature and work in the landscape would help facilitate the transition between her homeland and new home. By fusing her interests in Afro-Cuban ritual and the pantheistic Santeria religion with contemporary aesthetic practices such as Earthworks, Body art, and Performance art she maintained ties with her Cuban heritage.
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