Cuban-born Ana Mendieta produced work in the seventies in which she used her own body as a medium. In opposition to the predominant modernist theories of the time, this concept was being used by several other women artist as a feminist assertion of female body as a vehicle for personal and social expression. These women’s emphasis on the female body as a realistic tool for the woman artist, challenged the male tradition of the idealized female nude; and was a precursor to the direction toward the refiguration of the body in the rest of the art community during the eighties.
Mendieta sought to establish a «dialog between the landscape and the female body return to the maternal source.» She envisioned the female body as a primal source of life and sexuality, as a symbol of the ancient paleolithic goddesses. Between 1973 and 1980, Mendieta created her signature series, entitled «Silueta» or silhouette. Here, Mendieta used her body or images of her body in combination with natural materials. The pieces were transient, created and then photographed just before or during their destruction. The materials used were highly symbolic. In one work from the «Silueta» series, she outlined her figure with gunpowder, creating a shape reminiceint of prehistoric cave paintings. By setting it alight, she incorporates the ritualistic use of fire as a source of exorcism and purification. Mendieta also used flowers as mediums in her series, quoting the folk traditions of Mexico. Her primary material was the earth itself. In her «Tree of Life» series, she covered her naked body with mud and posed against and enormous tree. Ridding herself of her color and form, she is visually united with the tree, arms raised in supplication.
Tragically, Ana Mendieta died at age thirty-six, the result of a fall from an apartment window in New York in 1985. She left over 200 photographs documenting her body works, and a generation indebted to her innovation and ideals.