Ana Mendieta was a Cuban artist probably best known for her Silueta series, three examples of which are shown above. Like Kara Walker after her, Mendieta’s use of the silhouette shows both a presence (of body) and an absence (of detail). Mendieta left Cuba in 1960 at age twelve with Operation Pedro Pan, a secret mission that transported thousands of minors to the United States at the start of Fidel Castro’s regime. She didn’t see her parents for years afterward, and bounced from state to state, from foster home to foster home.
Less celebrated are Mendieta’s more brutal pieces. She once used her own body to re-create a violent rape scene, inviting viewers into her home to see her naked, tied to a table, covered in blood. For a different piece, she poured pig’s blood and viscera from the front door of her apartment out onto the street, suggesting a wounded body on the floor inside. The art was in her surreptitious photographs of people’s reactions to the blood, which Mendieta predicted correctly would be indifferent.
People say Mendieta’s work was overshadowed by her death, but I don’t know if that’s true. I first learned of Mendieta’s art when I saw her gorgeous, gender-bending photography series Untitled (Facial Hair Transplant). It wasn’t until a couple years after that that I accidentally stumbled upon her cause of death: a fall from her apartment window after a fight with her husband, sculptor Carl Andre. He admitted they’d argued that night about “his reputation in the art world surpassing hers,” but that she must have jumped out of the bedroom window or accidentally fallen. He was charged with her murder and acquitted for lack of evidence.
I am thinking about Ana Mendieta today because of a news report: her estate is suing a film studio for using Mendieta’s art without permission. Meanwhile, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s life is being immortalized, again, this time on Broadway. The press release announcing the development reads (in the third sentence) that producers are “working closely with the Basquiat Estate and have secured the rights to the painter’s art work and personal archives.”
Wonderful news for the Basquiat Estate, for theatre-goers and art-lovers. I love Basquiat’s work and legacy as much as I love Mendieta’s. In a perfect world, both estates would be honoured and consulted and compensated. Both artists would get their own Broadway show.