Born in Havana, Cuba in November 1948, Ana Mendieta was a well-known performance artist throughout the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. At age 12, she and her sister were forced to flee Cuba after her father joined an anti-Castro counter-revolutionary force, and the two siblings spent their first few weeks in the United States at a refugee camp in Florida until they were sent to an orphanage in Dubuque, Iowa — a location with a culture very different from the life Ana knew back in Cuba. She wouldn’t reunite with her mother and brother for five years and her father for another 18.
Mendieta was heavily influenced and inspired by artists of the Fluxus and Happenings movements, as well as by performance art that completely and totally immersed viewers and the artist in the work. Her experiences as an immigrant were also a powerful influence in her art. Being Cuban in rural Iowa as a child made her feel like an outsider growing up — she went from the loving, vivacious and tight-knit Cuban culture to a protestant, Midwestern U.S. farming lifestyle.
According to a 2018 article in The New York Times, Mendieta felt disconnected to her new country, and “The trauma of being uprooted from her Cuban homeland as a girl would leave her with questions about her identity and make her more conscious of being a woman of color.” Through her art, she examined this disconnect and discussed issues surrounding ethnicity, gender roles, religion, politics, violence against women and more.
The goal of her works was to elicit emotion in viewers that would result in them living more authentic and genuine lives; she hoped to show viewers that we are all connected by Earth.
Her life came to a tragic and unprecedented end when she passed away at 36 after “falling” out of a window on the 34th floor of her New York City apartment building — her death is still shrouded in mystery.
In Mendieta’s short life, her experience as a cross-cultural kid heavily influenced her artwork, as well as the life she lived. She described her longing for connections, she felt no place was her true home, and she missed the physical connection with family — something many CCKs and TCKs experience. Her artwork and her legacy begs us to consider the spiritual, ethereal and physical connections present in our own lives.