Friday, May 11, 2012

Ana Mendieta's Alma Silueta en Fuego

     Within the years of 1973 to 1980, artist Ana Mendieta created a collection of works entitled Silueta. They were created on a number of trips Mendieta made, traveling between Mexico and her hometown in Iowa. All of the pieces in this series are created in a very similar matter, using the silhouette of Mendieta's body. Often times the silhouette of the body was filled with organic elements of the earth including rocks, sand, flowers, and twigs. The piece I found the most interesting from her Sileta series is entitled Alma Silueta en Fuego.

      Alma Silueta en Fuego translates to mean "Soul Silhouette on Fire," which is what the piece appears to be. Pictured above, the Alma Silueta en Fuego, originally recorded to film, displays a ghostly silhouette of a body. The silhouette is then set to fire and burns until completely encompassed in flames.  The video below is from the original Super 8 camera footage filmed in October 1975, when the piece was created.

      Ana Mendieta's pieces shared many common themes.  From the video above, you can see that there is a prominent theme of what appears to be violence.  Often called "eerie" and "haunting," Mendieta's Silueta series "reveal her interest in the earth as a site to address issues of displacement" ("Ana Mendieta").  This seemed to relate largely to the theme of immigration discussed this semester, which Mendieta experienced early in her life at the age of 13.  Ana and her sister, Raquelin Mendieta, were born to a politically prominent family in Havana, Cuba during the reign of  the Communist movement and leader Fidel Castro.  When tensions arose between her family and Castro in 1961, her and her sister were shipped on a plane that was headed to the United States, specifically Miami.  This is where Mendieta's theme of displacement in her work originates.  This story of Ana Mendieta's displacement from her home and immigration to the United States reminded me a lot of the graphic novel, Persepolis.  A young girl at the time of her move to the U.S., Mendieta probably questioned what was going on in her home country.  With political and social movements on the rise and riots occurring in the streets of Cuba, Ana's childhood seems almost parallel to Marjane's, the main character in Persepolis, except the fact that Marjane was not sent away from her home to a completely foreign country.  This displacement from her natural country of birth, away from her family and friends, had a big influence on her life, which is why it is such an intense, prominent theme in her work.

      Along with this personal theme of displacement, Mendieta also seems to be inspired by the earth.   As she states in the following quote:
"For the past five years I have been working out in nature, exploring the relationship between myself, the earth, and art." - Ana Mendieta
 In this quote, recorded during the years of her Silueta series, Mendieta is explaining what her intentions were during the years this collection of works was produced.  She states she was attempting to discover "the relationship between" herself, the earth and her art.  By using earthly materials such as rocks, sand, and leaves, and interconnecting them with the earthly element of fire in Alma Silueta en Fuego, Mendieta is developing her unique relationship with the earth.  The use of fire can appear to mean many things such as anger or violence, but the use of it in Alma Silueta en Fuego is more complex.  Taking interest in the many rituals of Latin and Afro-Latin culture, fire seems to represent life in this piece, another major theme of Ana Mendieta's work.  Fire, for many ancient cultures, tends to symbolize the renewal of life through the warmth and comfort of flames.  So why many criticized Mendieta for the "violence" present in Alma Silueta en Fuego, this piece was not simply about burning the silhouette of a body.  I understood it to represent a renewal of the soul within the body.

     Ana Mendieta represented those artists that Joanna Frueh speaks of in the first lines of her article "The Body Through Women's Eyes," which states:

   "Feminists who portrayed the human body or used their own bodies in their art created some of the
   most radical and provocative works of the 1970s. Since then, the body has been an image, an idea,
   and an issue of continuing significance in women's art" (Frueh 190).

 By using her own body in her work, Mendieta was promoting these feminists ideals spoken about in Frueh's article.  By "recording the presence of her body—or the imprint it left behind—within different natural environments," Ana Mendieta was reclaiming her body for herself with a purpose ("Ana Mendieta").  This is why I believe her creations constitute as feminists art.  She wasn't depicting herself nude, which she did in many of her pieces, to make pornography or cause these provocative thoughts so many people came to when viewing her work.  She was simply expressing herself and the natural connection she felt with the earth.  Mendieta's Alma Silueta en Fuego showed that "women could become makers of meaning, as opposed to being bearer's of man's meaning" (Frueh 190).     

Works Cited

"Ana Mendieta." MOCA | The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Web. 11 May 2012. <>.

Image: "Ana Mendieta." Galerie Lelong. Web. 11 May 2012. <>.

Frueh, Joanna. “The Body Through Women’s Eyes” in The Power of Feminist Art, p.190-207.

Video: "Video." San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Web. 10 May 2012. <>.

Author: Ashley A.

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