Working as an artist during the 1970s, Ana Mendieta’s pieces have often been categorized and hailed as ecofeminist art. As a multidimensional artist, she was known for her “earth-body” artworks, dedicating her life and work towards the themes of feminism reflecting upon the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal for Gender Equality.
Mendieta was born in Cuba in 1948 and later emigrated to the United States in 1961 as part of Operation Peter Pan during the Cuban Revolution. Due to this, Mendieta grew up moving from orphanage to orphanage and was only able to return to Cuba in the early 1980s. Hence, her unsettling feelings of forced displacement have often been reflected in her Silueta series. In her untitled 1978 artwork, viewers can see the imprint of her body on Earth, a metaphor for her absence and longing for her motherland.
The Silueta series always showed the feminine figure in natural landscapes. Mendieta started by first placing her own body on the Earth, as seen on Imagen de Yagul (1973), one of her earliest Silueta, before moving on to tracing the outlines of her body on Earth, as seen in 1978 untitled work.
Afterwards, her Silueta evolved to her sculpting feminine bodies on the Earth, as seen on Birth (Gunpowder Works). Some of her last iterations of the Silueta especially resembled what art historians call “Venuses.”
These ancient female figurines, originating from non-Western cultures, prominently feature reproductive anatomy, leading to their interpretation as fertility symbols or charms associated with abundance and fertility. Some argue that these artifacts were early forms of pornography designed for male enjoyment. However, critics have concluded that this perspective is heavily influenced by Western archetypes, representing a projection of contemporary beliefs onto a culture that likely had a fundamentally different social structure.
The works in the Silueta series were later read from an ecofeminist lens, and doing so means attributing Mendieta's pieces to the movement’s belief that women and nature are similar. This was largely due to their ability to procreate and how they were equally oppressed in the face of a patriarchal society. In hindsight, the movement has been criticized as proposing a very Western dualistic worldview which ignores the spectrum between masculinity and femininity.
Hence, recalling Mendieta’s affirmations of her non-Western beliefs, especially seen in her focus on fellow Cubans and other women of colour, one we can affirm that Mendieta didn’t agree with such essentialist notions.
Observers have also compared similarities that her later Siluetas had with reliefs made by the Taíno, the Indigenous peoples of the Caribbean Arawak in the Jaruco caves, the same caves Mendieta created her Rupestrian sculptures in 1981 Cuba. These were some of the last Silueta she produced before her tragic death in 1985.
Mendieta's work resists easy categorization within Western dualistic frameworks, challenging the ecofeminist lens that simplifies the complex interplay between women and nature. Her legacy continues to persist, prompting a nuanced reconsideration of ecofeminist discourse and transcending cultural boundaries.