Monday, May 14, 2012

Ana Mendieta's Untitled (Facial Hair Transplants)



Ana Mendieta’s “Untitled (Facial Hair Transplants)” is a unique work that examines the boundary of what is typical for men and women.  In this 1972 work, Mendieta transfers the beard of a fellow student at the time, Morty Sklar, onto her own face.  The actual work is a group of photographs documenting the process and final result.  This was one of Mendieta’s earliest works.  She completed it while at graduate school in the University of Iowa (Heuer, 2011).  This piece is closely related with a few other pieces that Mendieta completed around this time.  They are related in Mendieta’s alterations of her image to something out of the norm.  These pieces are unique in Mendieta’s art since they show the fairly unobstructed images of Mendieta’s own face.  Many of her later works, especially the Silueta series, focus more on the body and the elements.  In this work, Mendieta creates a paradox in regards to tone.  By adorning her face with the facial hair, she is playful, almost in the same way a young girl could dress up in her father’s clothing, but it is the underlying themes and meaning in this work that give it a more serious tone. 
                Ana Mendieta addressed several themes in her Untitled (Facial Hair Transplants) that we have previously discussed in class.  One of the biggest themes present in this piece is the theme of gender.  Mendieta is blatant with her manipulation of gender in this piece.  Much like in Lorber’s, “Night to his Day”, she challenges beliefs about innate behavior in regards to gender (Lorber 33).  By adorning her own face with a man’s facial hair, she goes against the “expected”.  These expected appearances and roles that men and women are grouped by have been thoroughly discussed in our class.  The idea of gender binaries can trap and ostracize people who may not fit perfectly within their borders.  Mendieta takes a stand in a way against these stereotypes in this art work.  I believe that that is what makes this piece a feminist piece.  Mendieta challenges the stereotypes that surround how a woman should act, and also challenges the stereotypes that surround feminism.  As in Seely’s “F-Word Introduction”, Mendieta addresses the stereotypes that have been given to feminism, and does well to challenge the binary that has been created in society (Seely 2).
                This piece I thought is closely related to the theme of sexuality.  In this group of pictures, Mendieta places a man’s facial hair on her own face.  She does not wear any makeup and her hair is worn very plainly.  She plays with the theme of sexuality by muddling her own.  It is not a very sexual artwork by the standards of beauty or nudeness, but it is a very sexual piece for the exact opposite reasons.  By altering gender roles and expectations and minimizing her own beauty, I think that Mendieta has created a very sexual piece.  It challenges people to reexamine what they believe about sexuality and it challenges the norms and stereotypes surrounding sexuality. 
                I personally really enjoyed this piece.  I was very shocked when I first came across it.  I thought it was really weird, much like something someone would see at a freak show.  I became very interested in the piece and decided to choose it for my focus. 
                As I learned more about Mendieta and this particular work, I became aware of the underlying themes and meanings that were present.  On the surface, this piece could be meant to be funny, serious, weird, or anything else.  By looking more closely at Mendieta’s history and other art pieces, I began to better understand her message.  I thought that this piece was extremely well connected to our class, especially in regards to gender and sexuality.  I thought that it was awesome how she created so much meaning just from putting on a beard.  I was slightly repulsed by the picture at first, but I really have grown to respect it.  I think it conveys a powerful message about challenging stereotypes and not being afraid to go against the norms society has created.
 I thought that the image of her and her friend that lent her his beard was very powerful.  To me, I thought that it was a great message about feminism.  I thought that that image challenged the stereotype that feminists are man-haters.  Similar to debates that we have had in class about men in feminism, I think that a man can be a feminist.  Mendieta’s awesome piece about challenging stereotypes not just about women but also about feminism was assisted by a man.  I don’t think that that is a demonstration of patriarchy.  I think that it is a demonstration of one feminist helping another.  Overall, I thought that Ana Mendieta’s “Untitled (Facial Hair Transplants)” is a very powerful piece full of underlying messages and meaning.

Works Cited
Image: Ana mendieta untitled (facial hair transplants). (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.phillipsdepury.com/auctions/lot-detail/ANA-MENDIETA/NY000212/7/1/1/12/detail.aspx
Heuer, M. (2001, September). The brooklyn rail. Retrieved from http://brooklynrail.org/2004/09/art/ana-mendieta-earth-body-sculpture-and-pe
Lorber, Judith. “The Social Construction of Gender.” p. 142-145
Seely, Megan. “The F-Word Introduction”. p. 1-14

Jessica F.

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