Between 1974 and 1980 the Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta (1948–1985) created more than one hundred Siluetas, photographic and filmic records of the “earth-body sculptures” she enacted in Iowa and Mexico. In this Silueta and other early works in the series, Mendieta mobilized her body as actor, site, and space, incorporating it into a variety of natural environments.
The Cuban-born artist Ana Mendieta arrived in the United States by means of a violent political displacement. In 1961 Mendieta and her sister were given visa waivers and evacuated from their native country—where Fidel Castro had recently assumed power—through a U.S. intervention called Operation Pedro Pan. Like many of the roughly 14,000 unaccompanied Cuban minors who were relocated, they shuttled through several foster homes, in this case in Iowa, and did not see their family for years.
Iowa became Mendieta’s adoptive home for a lengthy period. She spent eleven years at the University of Iowa before graduating with multiple art degrees and training in subjects such as archaeology and theater. While enrolled in the MFA Intermedia Program there, Mendieta experimented with Super 8 film stock. Between 1974 and 1980 she created more than one hundred Siluetas, photographic and filmic records of her use of elemental materials (earth, water, air, fire) for “earth-body sculptures” enacted in Iowa and Mexico. This series includes Silueta Sangrienta, a silent two-minute film that cuts from the artist, prone and nude, to a hollow echoing her archaic pose. The silhouette reappears as a reservoir for unnaturally brilliant red fluid, and finally we see the artist face down, partially submerged. (Mendieta opted to use paint rather than blood for heightened contrast with the soil.) Throughout the piece she dramatizes the camera’s static position through her pacing and editing: what results is an unsettling narrative sequence that resists linear time.