Imagen de Yagul, from the series Silueta Works in Mexico 1973–1977, by Ana Mendieta

Ana Mendieta

Imagen de Yagul, from the series Silueta Works in Mexico 1973–1977, 1973, Chromogenic print, 50.8 x 33.97 cm, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 93.220, © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC. Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co. Photo: Don Ross, courtesy of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

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Lament as Exile and Identity

Read by Richard Ayoade

Taken while working on an archaeological dig in the ruins of a Zapotec tomb, Ana Mendieta’s Imagen de Yagul grapples with the ‘exilic qualities of identity’, the sense of being tied to, and yet separated from, the usual ‘categories’ of gender, race, ethnicity, nation, colony, exile, and home. Lacking a straightforward way to negotiate her experience, Mendieta defines these categories, Jane Blocker writes, ‘only through loss’. There is ‘no essence, only the search for essence; there is no identity, only the search for identity; there is no origin, only the cinder’ (Blocker 1999: 33).

Immersed in a Mexican culture brimming with colonial and indigenous traditions, Mendieta’s ‘earth/body’ art interjects ‘the performing body into nature to forge links with an ancestral past and present’ (Rifkin 2004: 11). Imagen de Yagul therefore speaks authoritatively with the ‘double-voice’ and in the ‘double-time’ of lament. ‘I have been carrying on a dialogue between the landscape and the female body (based on my own silhouette)’, Mendieta writes. ‘I believe this has been a direct result of my having been torn from my homeland (Cuba) during my adolescence. I am overwhelmed by the feeling of having been cast from the womb (nature). My art is the way I re-establish the bonds that unite me to the universe’. (Barreras del Rio and Perreault 1988: 10)

Drawing from Santería, which hybridizes Yoruban beliefs with Catholic practices, Mendieta is both a performer and archivist of loss. She lies as dead, waiting for rebirth—a return, she writes, to the ‘unbaptized earth of the beginning, the time that from within the earth looks upon us’ (Blocker 1999: 33). She is covered with flowers, which resonates not only with Catholic burial practices, but also with this larger indigenous cosmology—the contrast of the ruin and the fresh flowers gives ‘the sense’, Mary Jane Jacob writes, ‘of new life sprung from the dead, literally from her body’ (1991: 13).



Barreras del Rio, Petra, and John Perreault. 1988. Ana Mendieta: A Retrospective (New York: Museum of Contemporary Art)

Blocker, Jane. 1999. Where is Ana Mendieta?: Identity, Performativity, and Exile (Durham: Duke University Press)

Jacob, Mary Jane. 1991. The ‘Silueta’ Series, 1973–1980 (New York: Galerie Le Long)

Rifkin, Ned. 2004. ‘Forward’ in Ana Mendieta, Earth Body: Sculpture and Performance, 1972–1985, ed. by Olga M. Viso, (Washington, DC: Hatje Cantz)