I have to start off by saying that Ana Mendieta wasn't a photographer--she worked primarily with performance art and sculpture. That said, the photographic documentation of her performances is some of the most compelling imagery I've ever seen. The woman in all of these is Mendieta herself--all of the following images are documentation of her performances.
It's hard to know where to start with Ana Mendieta. She led a tragically brief but incredibly productive life. Her work is so charged and resonant that I struggle to find the language to even explain why it moves me.
She was born in Cuba in 1948 but was exiled in 1961 when Fidel Castro accused her father of treason. She and her sister moved to the United States under Operation Peter Pan and lived in various foster homes. Mendieta earned her BA from the University of Iowa in 1969 and continued her studies there, earning a Master's and a Master's in Fine Art.
This is a photograph of one of Mendieta's early performances where she received a "Facial Hair Transplant" from a male classmate.
The two following images are from her Bodytracks series, which involved using (animal) blood and her body to create patterns.
Much of her work deals with integrating the body back into the landscape.
Something that's come up in many discussions of art and feminist theory that I've participated in college is the connection between a woman's body and the earth. The basic idea is that male artists, and men in general, draw a parallel between women and the earth to justify the subjugation and domination of both. One of the things I love about Ana Mendieta is that she complicates that simple paradigm. She is a female artist integrating herself into the landscape. It's an empowered decision and a voluntary connection.
I am so inspired and in such awe of Mendieta's work. This is her tamer stuff, too. She did a really daring performance piece about rape during her MFA studies and also frequently used blood in her performances.
Ana Mendieta died in 1985 when she fell out of the window of her New York apartment. Many people believe that her husband, the minimalist sculptor Carl Andre, is responsible for her deaths. Others believe it was an accident, and still others consider it a suicide. Carl Andre was tried and acquitted by a judge (rather than a jury). Nobody really knows for sure what happened. It's a heartbreaking saga, whatever the truth is. This review of a book on the subject gives a good short account of it all.
Ana Mendieta inspires me more than just about any other artist. Her work is so emotionally powerful without being melodramatic. I think it's some of the most brilliant work ever created.
I'm a really bad person and don't know the sources for these images as I saved them to my computer some time ago. Sorry!