In 1961, Cuban artist Ana Mendieta (1948-1985) was forcibly relocated to the United States due to the uncertainty caused by Fidel Castro’s rise to power in her home nation. This began Mendieta’s life of exile. Focusing on the photographic series Silueta Works in Mexico (1973-1977), artist and scholar Genevieve Hyacinthe posits Mendieta as a “New World Artist” whose interests in the figure of the Black Venus, and other Black Atlantic forms metaphorically buoyed her to re-shape her experience of exile from a narrative of intractable trauma to artistic agency.
Black Atlantic Victory in Exile
In the midst of cosmic accretion or a supernova rupture, we observe glowing bursts of fiery oranges, reds, yellows, and hot whites somewhere under a blue-black Oaxaca night sky in Anima, Silueta de Cohetes (Firework Piece) (1976). One of Ana Mendieta’s Silueta Works in Mexico (1973–1977), Anima, Silueta de Cohetes was recently on view in the Pérez Art Museum Miami’s exhibition My Body, My Rules, curated by Jennifer Inacio, PAMM Associate Curator. Mendieta, who was born in Havana in 1948, evolved into one of the most innovative intermedia artists in the contemporary art world. Working between roughly 1973 and the time of her untimely passing in 1985, Mendieta resided predominantly in North America and intermittently in Europe due to the political dynamics of her Cuban home. She created Anima, Silueta de Cohetes and other works comprising the full Silueta series (1973–1980), with a divine hand guided by a constellation of Black Atlantic energies—earthly, cosmic, and ancestral.1 In elegant collaboration with these spiritual forces, Mendieta transformed her experience of exile into one of empowerment and endurance.2 As José Quiroga notes:
Mendieta always claimed her place of birth and the traumatic events that as a child forced her to leave it as central to her art. She derived strength, however, from playing with, and moving out of, the expected narrative of exile. She turned that narrative upside down by insisting on the way in which she was always more, not less . . . She returned to the Cuban space that so many of her compatriots in exile during the 1970s thought it a crime to visit, and she created works in a cave . . . as an homage to Caribbean native populations decimated by imperialism.3
Quiroga sees Mendieta as entangling with and moving beyond fixed narratives of exile, transfiguring exile from a state of immutable victimization into one of empowerment by being always more.
Born of necessity, this insistence to persevere in the face of the political challenges in her personal life history and those presented by the hegemonic dynamics of the art world took root at an early age. In 1961, uncertain about the ramifications of Fidel Castro’s rise to power, Mendieta’s parents sent the preteen Mendieta and Raquelin, her teenaged sister, to the United States through an initiative co-sponsored by the Catholic Church and the CIA, Operación Pedro Pan. As part of the program, these Cuban children were placed in various homes and boarding institutions throughout the United States. Mendieta and her sister came of age in the Iowa foster care system, during which time the natural isolation of being uprooted from home and family was exacerbated by their peers’ racial epithets and misogynistic slanders, which contributed to the sisters’ self-identification as “nonwhite.”4
As an artist, Mendieta remained self-possessed, using her body in nuanced ways to make silent political allusions despite her uncertainty about when or whether she and her sister would see their family again or return to their birthplace. Even if Mendieta was able to return to Cuba, feelings of uncertainty might overshadow expectations of comfort in returning to the landscape of her childhood memories. Employing terms developed in Black Atlantic discourse, I might describe this uncertainty as a sense of trembling—a reference to Martinican-born philosopher Édouard Glissant’s use of the term to describe a state of mutability and potential precariousness that is part of shared Black Atlantic lived and aesthetic experiences.5 Would her return bring forth feelings of belonging, of estrangement, or of something in between, beyond, or inclusive of all these feelings? Gerardo Mosquera’s recollections provide a frame of reference:
After her first visit to Cuba, Ana declared: ‘I was afraid before I went … what if I find out it has nothing to do with me? But the minute I got there it was this whole thing of belonging again.’ On that occasion, she had come only as a visitor. What would happen when she came [to Cuba] as an artist? The question frightened her: ‘I do not know how possible it will be for me. I am between two cultures.’6
Mendieta’s Siluetas are trembling forms embodying her drive to always be more, to endure and triumph while living within the Americas in the gaps between cultures that she herself carved out. She once declared, “I go on to make my work upon the earth, to go on is victory.”7 The power of this sentiment is resonant with statements made by new generations of Black Atlantic ritual artists today, like as Michele, from Botánica Santa Barbara (a Black Atlantic boutique specializing in herbs and ritual items) in Alexandria, Virginia, who similarly proclaimed, “If I could sum up in one word what our botánica stands for, it would be ‘Victory!’”8
This drive, the processes, and art that emerge from it are the Black Atlantic way; these methods and resulting works are born from ideas and aesthetics originating in traditional kingdoms from West and Central Africa like the Yorùbá and Kongo, interpreted and transformed by religious and/or visual artists living and working in Atlantic regions and beyond, and take form in both traditional spiritual ritual practices like Vodou, Santería, and Candomblé, as well as through more “formal” art media such as painting and installation. Mendieta burns all of these coalescing vibrancies brightly through the Oaxaca night with Anima, Silueta de Cohetes (1976). This work reflects her affinity with the general creative approaches of madrina or mambo artists9 who esoterically cultivate their beads, tinsel, VèVè, fabrics, colors, and smoke for ritual contexts.10
Riffing on these strategies with her own poetries, Mendieta transforms flowers, pigments, candles, fire, gunpowder, water, wood, and earth into her Siluetas whose contours are shaped to loosely reflect the outline of her body. The Anima scaffolding was constructed by a local Oaxacan artist out of native reeds (carrizo) in the style of the pre-Columbian and Catholic fire-lighting festival traditions of the area.11 We encounter the Silueta standing vertically, mirroring us, although at the same time, like the Earth, it leans slightly off-axis. A Black Atlantic metaphorical reading of this pose evokes a sense of trembling (im)balance. This reading brings to mind the supernatural contrapposto of Eleggúa, the Black Atlantic trickster deity of the trembling realms who, as legend submits, stands with one foot in this world and another in the next as he communicates between earthly, ancestral, and celestial planes. Indigenous, Catholic, and African traces of Eleggúa and others imbued into Anima’s “bones” are stirred into a deeper trembling when Mendieta sets it ablaze, activating it with her own customized gunpowder: “I buy different ingredients that make gunpowder. And then I add [sugar] to these ingredients … I make different kinds of [mixtures] … each time. The chemicals and materials in the earth cause [different] reactions.”12 It cannot be overlooked that the base ingredient for her pyrotechnical process is sugar—matter indelibly linked to the labor of enslaved people in Cuba and the Black Atlantic more broadly.
New World Artists: Black Atlantic Convergences “Every Minute of Every Day”13
In Anima and the other Silueta Works in Mexico, we witness Mendieta working as a “New World Artist”—one who forges beyond the boundaries of painting and its imperialist Renaissance and Modern Art legacies. I describe Mendieta as a New World Artist because of the term’s trembling implications: it evokes an artist working in the Caribbean and the Americas who simultaneously grapples with the legacies of imperialism and its brutalities (with no guarantee of triumph), while endeavoring to achieve a sense of free expression and creative action. Similarly, scholars like J. Lorand Matory, have used the term “New World” as a descriptor for artists and theorists thinking through philosophies germane to the creative milieu in this region—as trembling or open-ended it may be—that develops out of the Black Atlantic experience.14 We see Mendieta’s New World Artist approach emerge after her sudden recognition that painting could not attain an affective experience that was “real” enough to suit her desires. Mendieta declared: “I started exploring nature, because that’s really where I felt I could do something.”15 With this charge, Mendieta grounded her practice within the trembling domains of the Black Atlantic, where it lives, breathes, and burns to the tempo of Édouard Glissant’s “‘trembling’ … [as] an open and subjective relation to the world, the refusal to systematize thinking.”16 In 2018, curators Hans Ulrich Obrist, Gabriela Rangel, and Assad Raza organized Lydia Cabrera and Édouard Glissant: Trembling Thinking to explore the perspectives of the Afro-Caribbean ethnographer, Lydia Cabrera, and the Martinican philosopher, Édouard Glissant. As they explain in the catalogue for the exhibition—which also included Mendieta’s work—“A thought that trembles refuses to be definitively located, to be one. Rather, it shakes, vibrates, and stays multiple, leaving its identity undefinable.”17
Using her innovative process of appropriation and recontextualization to claim her artistic agency, Mendieta strives to be the author of her own narrative; she “clamor[s] for the right to opacity”— the freedom to retell histories as she sees fit—with redactions, omissions, and irresolvability.18 José Quiroga calls Mendieta’s Siluetas “totemic in their search for a kind of raw power. ‘Imperialism,’ she once explained, ‘is no longer a problem of expansion so much, but of reproduction.’”19 Her words point to the historical alliance between imperialism and visuality in the history of art that spans from its origins into Mendieta’s own moment.
This is a period residing within the intersections of the late post-World War II years, the post–Great Migration period, the Cold War, Second Wave feminism, the Mariel Boatlift, and the “Afro–Latinization”20 of Miami and New York. It was to New York that she relocated after completing her studies at the University of Iowa in 1978 in order to interact with a community in “Brooklyn, Queens, the Lower East Side, and Morningside Heights [where] multiple streams of Sub-Saharan and Western influence converge at every minute of every day.”21 Weaponized with Black Atlantic trembling, Mendieta—and other New World Artists like her—was adept at disarming the power of visual imperialism and its societal mechanisms. Where, for instance, tremblings may appear with an “earth-shaking” visuality in a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting, in Mendieta’s Anima and the Siluetas more generally, they appear with what José Esteban Muñoz has aptly called the more atmospheric vitalism, “the aftertrail of a vital force that is brownness encountering the actual multiplicities of studio walls, caves, beaches, fields and other mounds of earth and world.”22
At the same time, the Siluetas resonate with the liminal and thick nature of Lydia Cabrera’s El Monte (1954), where Black Atlantic elements live and interact within systems of flickering illegibility and focus as a dissolution and dislocation of master narratives and stable notions of time and place.23 Mendieta makes reference to Wifredo Lam’s La Jungla (1943), a large-scale painting of Black Atlantic entanglements, in her work of the same name—an unrealized outdoor sculpture installation in which seven monumental fire-treated tree trunks would have evoked the seven Black Atlantic spiritual powers animating all life. It was her intention to site the work in Los Angeles’s MacArthur Park, where it would have been enjoyed by the neighborhood’s mostly Black and Brown residents, many of them recently arrived in the United States from Cuba via the Mariel Boatlift of 1980.24
Mexican Silueta at the Crossroads
Through these trembling perspectives, we can envision a “sense of”25 Mendieta’s imaginary of and location within the Black Atlantic milieu. Her position as a New World Artist is one of agency and a state of agility, grace, and transcendence orchestrated to confront imperialist notions of exile as disempowering, intractable trauma.26 We see these tremblings during her formative years as an emerging artist developing herself at University of Iowa in the late 1960s through 1977.27 At Iowa, she took courses on “primitive” and African art, while at the same time immersing herself in the study and illustration of Mesoamerican codices. These academic exposures likely influenced her trembling sense of a Black Atlantic collectivity as a coalescence of Indigeneity, Africanness, and mondialité—a Glissant term implying a sense of the global that is open-ended rather than monovalent.28
While studying at the University of Iowa, Mendieta began producing her Silueta Works in Mexico, including her first—Imágen de Yágul (1973)—during excursions from Iowa to Oaxaca and its environs. Imágen de Yágul was reproduced as part of her MFA thesis in intermedia arts. If we think of Mendieta’s thesis as a culmination of the foundational work she completed as part of her personal and professional quest to become an artist, then we might consider Imágen de Yágul’s position as the original Silueta as holding particular profundity. Made at a key crossroads in her life, the work trembles with a nascent Black Atlantic impulse. As Luis Camnitzer suggests, perhaps like all Siluetas, Imágen de Yágul is “simply a self-portrait”29 and as Mendieta would refer to her Silueta works more generally, the starting point for “a series without end,”30 a ground-zero for her ongoing explorations in making work more “real” than painting.31 Moreover, Imágen de Yágul signifies the start of her full immersion into the contemporary scene as a New World Artist and highlights her position as a mobile agent: it required Mendieta to make her way from Iowa to the remote Zapotec site where she created it. Therefore, we might consider that the journey she took to find her desired ground is as important as the work she makes in that location. She navigates the terrains of shorelines, elevations, valleys, forests, and continental terra firma more generally, eventually returning to island landscapes when she first realizes a path back to Cuba in January 1980.32
The idea of Imágen de Yágul’s position as a point of origin may also be implied by its appearance as, arguably, the most visually “whole” work in the series. As we can observe in the PAMM collection’s color digital print of the work, though it is partially occluded from view, Mendieta’s full body is present; in contrast, in the majority of the works in the Silueta series, only traces of her body remain. In Imágen de Yágul, Mendieta appears nude, lying face-up on an Indigenous Zapotec tomb—her arms pulled tightly alongside her torso and her legs and feet zipped together—blanketed under an arrangement of white wildflowers, supported by the ancestral foundations of the pre-Columbian Zapotec of the Oaxaca Valley, an area that in subsequent generations would feature a strong Black and Mestizo presence with a prevalent faith in medicinal plants and flowers. Other Silueta Works in Mexico have a more evanescent quality, among them the cosmic flash that is Anima, a Silueta made of a red spillage seeping through the undertow of a Pacific beach tide, and a faint Silueta as ephemeral as the shadow of an apparition hovering on dusty ground.
A Trembling Venus Mobility
Mendieta’s Silueta practice takes root on Mexican soil and blossoms with trembling vitality throughout her remaining years as a New World Artist. She cultivates it with a virtuosity that conjures a trembling sense of marronage—defined loosely as a strategy for African people of the Black Atlantic to confront their oppression. Marronage would include the efforts by enslaved peoples to seek out protection in nature, taking to uninhabitable or challenging el monte terrains, particularly mountainous areas, to outmaneuver their captors and create moments of refuge that through the generations often took root, blossoming into “settled’ communities.33 Adam Bledsoe considers marronage “one of the most creative and emergent methods of life-building found in the modern world,” where spaces of physical, psychic, and/or political challenge are transformed through creativity.34 The term also refers to members of “free black peasantry … and black urban vibrancy” who freely traversed land as well as maritime channels of the Caribbean, interacting and exchanging with the heterogeneous cultures and multiplicity of narratives characteristic of the Black Atlantic.35
Mosquera muses about the overlap between marronage and fugivity in Mendieta’s processes as a means of seeking out and locating solace within alternative grounds.36 His vision of Mendieta working in the hills in intersection with marronage metaphors brings to mind her work, Black Venus (1980), which she formed in the landscape of Iowa City. Mendieta shaped Black Venus as a dark blaze burned by activated gunpowder into “a hillside” that resembled a “current line [evocative] of ‘the spinal cord and womb’37 of the Black Atlantic diaspora.”38 Eventually when Mendieta was able to return to Cuba, the Black Venus was with her. In 1981, Mendieta channels La Venus Negra at the Jaruco Caves in the dense countryside of Eastern Havana, creating her as an horizontally-oriented Silueta-like form carved in relief into the limestone.39 That same year, a photo of the Iowa Black Venus was reproduced in Heresies, a feminist art journal, in a special issue on art and ecology in which Mendieta supplemented the black-and-white image with “her translation of” a story originally written by Spanish-born, Cuban-Creole writer Adrián del Valle, about the legend of La Venus Negra (The Black Venus).40 She is a goddess of marronage who eventually chose starvation over enslavement by the Spanish colonizers who encountered her and quickly became enraptured by her natural beauty:
nude except for necklace and bracelets of seeds and seashells, and so lovely that ‘the most demanding artist would have considered her an example of perfect feminine beauty.’41 … She lives in isolation because she has endured: ‘She was a survivor of innumerable generations of Siboney Indians, who had been extinguished by colonialization. They called her the Black Venus.’42
Hers is no tragic story. At some point during her time of captivity, La Venus Negra disappears, her Black supernaturalism perhaps activated through her noble fasting as a silent protest against imperialism. Mendieta’s La Venus Negra text concludes, “Today the Black Venus has become a legendary symbol against slavery. She represents the affirmation of a free and natural being who refused to be colonized.”43
Mendieta’s experience of creating the Silueta Works in Mexico sustained and empowered her to transform facets of her Black Atlantic imaginary into concrete—though trembling—form as a means of confronting and transcending the trauma of exile with the alchemies of a madrina. Mendieta made a poetic declaration that forging a connection with the Mexican land made her feel at home—“plugged in,” able to access its spiritual, ancestral, and terrestrial magic. But the revelation of her expressed “contentment” at being in the presence of those whom she felt looked like her—like Black Venus, “with dark skin”—was new and striking to me. What might it mean that beyond Wilson’s account, I cannot recall a direct reference to Mendieta’s expressed desire to be among people with her stature and “dark skin” tone,44 an encounter that intuitively feels like an affirmation of her life and art as markers of a New World Artist’s trembling endurance in the face of imperialism? In 1981, in the Cuban mountainous caves of Jaruco, where Mendieta created her Esculturas Rupestres (Rupestrian Sculptures), I imagine her returning to the arms of La Venus Negra, a spirit of the “Caribbean native populations decimated by imperialism,”45 an angel time-traveling through the trembling New World spaces where Mendieta made her art. In light of her Silueta Works in Mexico, I am certain this was not the first time Mendieta found herself safe in Black Venus’s loving embrace.
Genevieve Hyacinthe is an Assistant Professor of History of Art and Visual Culture and a member of the MFA Fine Art Faculty at California College of the Arts in San Francisco. Her West African and Haitian dance and drumming practices intersect with her academic work. She extends phenomenological and self-critical explorations of the body as a cultural and sensorial locus point into her research, writing, and teaching. Dedicated to D. Soyini Madison’s “loving ethnography,” Hyacinthe views research and writing as critical and heartfelt artistic practice that exposes blind spots and shortcomings as opposed to maintaining closed, authoritative positions. Hyacinthe’s recent book, Radical Virtuosity: Ana Mendieta and the Black Atlantic was published by MIT Press in 2019. Her current book project is about contemporary Black sculpture. Hyacinthe is continually wondering about risk in art practice, privileging but not limited to writing, research, dance, and forms of abstraction and poetry across media.
- The term Black Atlantic is used here to reference West and Central African aesthetics translated and manifested by artists in regions framing the Atlantic and its surrounds, including the Caribbean and the Americas more broadly.
- For further thoughts on the connections between Mendieta and that Black Atlantic, see my text: Genevieve Hyacinthe, Radical Virtuosity: Ana Mendieta and the Black Atlantic (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2019).
- José Quiroga, “Still Searching for Ana Mendieta,” in Cuban Palimpsests (Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 2005), 174–75.
- Kaira M. Cabañas, “Ana Mendieta: ‘Pain of Cuba, Body I Am,’” Woman’s Art Journal 20, no. 1 (Spring-Summer, 1999): 12.
- Hans Ulrich Obrist, Gabriela Rangel, and Assad Raza, “Trembling Thinking, or Ethnography of the Unknowable,” in Lydia Cabrera and Édouard Glissant: Trembling Thinking (New York: Americas Society, 2018), 36.
- Gerardo Mosquera, originally published in a pamphlet for Esculturas Rupestres [Ana Mendieta], New York: A.I.R. Gallery, 1981. Excerpted here from Gerardo Mosquera, “No Title [Esculturas Rupestres],” in Ana Mendieta: La tierra habla (The Earth Speaks) (New York: Galerie Lelong & Co., 2019), 8.
- Cabañas, 12.
- Joseph M. Murphy, Botánicas: Sacred Spaces of Healing and Devotion in Urban America (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2015), 134.
- By “madrina or mambo artists,” I am referring to the Black Atlantic priestesses of the Afro-Caribbean whose ritual work intersects with Catholic and Indigenous modes.
- More specifically, while madrina and mambo are important priestesses of the Black Atlantic, they are associated with their own specific ritual practices within the Caribbean. A madrina is an Afro-Cuban ritual priestess central to Santería—a spiritual form practiced particularly in Cuba and its diaspora. A mambo is loosely her “corollary” in Haitian Vodou contexts. Both Santería and Vodou are spiritual modes coalescing West African religious dynamics with elements in the Americas from Indigenous and Catholic rituals.
- Olga Viso, “The Memory of History,” in Ana Mendieta: Earth Body, Sculpture and Performance 1972–1985, ed. Olga M. Viso (Ostfildern-Ruit, Germany: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2004), 60-61.
- Julia P. Herzberg, “Ritual in Performance,” in NeoHooDoo: Art for a Forgotten Faith, ed. Franklin Sirmans (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), notes 31 and 35, p. 67.
- Robert Farris Thompson, “Royalty, Heroism, and the Streets: The Art of Jean-Michel Basquiat,” in Jean-Michel Basquiat, ed. Richard Marshall (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1992), 28.
- J. Lorand Matory. “Free to Be a Slave: Slavery as Metaphor in the Afro-Atlantic Religions.” Journal of Religion in Africa 37 (2007): 398–425.
- Joan Marter, “1 February 1985: Joan Marter and Ana Mendieta.” Ana Mendieta: Traces, ed. Stephanie Rosenthal (London: Hayward Publishing, 2013), 229.
- Obrist, Rangel, and Raza, 36.
- Ibid, 35.
- Édouard Glissant, “For Opacity,” in Poetics of Relation, translated by Betsy Wing (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997), 194.
- Quiroga, 178.
- Thompson, 28.
- José Esteban Muñoz, “Vitalism’s After-Burn,” Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory 21, no. 2 (2011): 195.
- See Lydia Cabrera, El Monte (Miami: Ediciones Universal, 2020). Originally published in 1954.
- Viso, 116.
- This is a reference back to Muñoz’s theory of vitalism—a “sense of Brownness” in Mendieta’s work. Muñoz, 195.
- Quiroga, 174-175.
- Laura Roulet, “Ana Mendieta: A Life in Context,” in Ana Mendieta: Earth | Body, ed. Olga Viso (Washington, D.C.: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden Smithsonian Institution, 2004), 229, 230, 233.
- See Laura Roulet’s mention of Mendieta taking a primitive art class in 1967 (Roulet, 228) and Herzberg’s reference to Mendieta’s African art class (Herzberg, “Ana Mendieta,” 249) and study of Mesoamerican codices, (Herzberg, “Ana Mendieta,” 246, 249). Mondialité is used here to reference Glissant’s sense of the term as a dynamic that privileges the mutable uncertainty of situational localness over the stasis and hegemonies we might see in generalized models of center and periphery offered by the global. See Obrist, Rangel, and Raza, 34–35.
- Luis Camnitzer, “Ana Mendieta,” Third Text 3, no. 7 (1989): 48.
- Susan Best, “The Serial Spaces of Ana Mendieta,” Art History 30, no. 1 (2007): 64.
- Marter, 229.
- Quiroga, 186.
- Ibid, 32.
- Adam Bledsoe, “Marronage as a Past and Present Geography in the Americas,” Southeastern Geographer 57, no. 1, Special Issue: Black Geographies in and of the United States South (Spring 2017): 30.
- Pablo F. Gómez, The Experiential Caribbean: Creating Knowledge and Healing in the Early Modern Atlantic (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017), 9.
- Mosquera, 8.
- Aisha M. Beliso-De Jesús, Electric Santeria: Racial and Sexual Assemblages of Transnational Religion (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015), 92.
- Hyacinthe, 243.
- The Black Venus of the Jaruco Caves, La Venus Negra (1981), was recently displayed in the exhibition, La tierra habla (The Earth Speaks), at Galerie Lelong & Co. in New York (2019) and included in its catalogue. Ana Mendieta: La tierra habla (The Earth Speaks) (New York: Galerie Lelong & Co., 2019). See Anna Lovatt, “Against Deculturation: Ana Mendieta in Cuba,” Ana Mendieta: La tierra habla, 10-15.
- Jane Blocker, “Ana Mendieta and the Politics of The Venus Negra,” Cultural Studies 12, no. 1 (1998): 34 and 48, note 6. Blocker writes about Mendieta’s relationship to “the Legend of The Venus Negra,” with much more depth and criticality than I do here in my short reflection. She digs through the layers of objectification of “Black Venus” embedded within the iterations of an original text written in 1919 about the legend of a Black woman figure in Cuba in the early nineteenth century with supernatural powers who was associated with Indigenous and African populations. Blocker, perhaps fairly, implicates Mendieta as a contributor more than a disruptor of the modes of objectification that surround the story. I am writing this reflection after conducting extensive research on Mendieta that made me aware of her substantive work behind the scenes, in the galleries and alternative spaces of her time, and in her public speaking addresses, to form alliance with other artists of color, particularly Black artists. This fact causes me to approach discussions of her blindspots and/or what some may view as her simplistic takes on race and identity with a bit more generosity. I touch upon her work in these areas in my book of 2019, Radical Virtuosity: Ana Mendieta and the Black Atlantic. I feel this chapter of Mendieta’s story warrants more critical attention. Among the Black artists she collaborated with in New York City alone include: Juan Sánchez, Linda Goode-Bryant, Senga Nengudi, David Hammons, Dawoud Bey, Willie Birch, Beverly Buchanan, Jayne Cortez, Howardina Pindell, Mel Edwards. As the late avant-garde poet Jayne Cortez said of Mendieta, “She was just a hard-working, brilliant, tough little sister.” Jayne Cortez, as quoted in the documentary, Ana Mendieta: Fuego de Tierra, directed by Kate Horsfield, Nereyda Garcia-Ferraz, and Branda Miller (1987). See cue: 35:10–35:16.
- Mendieta, “La Venus Negra, Based on a Cuban Legend,” Heresies 4, no. 1 (1981): 22.
- Quiroga, 175.