THERE IS A DEVIL INSIDE ME: works inspired by Ana Mendieta, presented on the 30th anniversary of her death


September 8, 2015

Public Space One

120 N Dubuque St. Iowa City, IA


8:30 PM performance by Artemisa Clark
(UC San Diego Visual Arts MFA 2015, Northwestern Performance Studies Ph.D. 2021) 
9:00 PM reading by Jenna Sauers
(University of Iowa Nonfiction Writing MFA 2016)
9:30 PM presenters in conversation with David Dunlap
(University of Iowa School of Art & Art History Professor Emeritus)

Shortly before dawn on September 8, 1985, the artist Ana Mendieta died following a fall from the apartment that belonged to her husband, minimalist sculptor Carl Andre. In Andre’s 911 call, he told the dispatcher that Mendieta “went out of the window” of his 34th story apartment’s bedroom. While the events of that night will never truly be understood, Andre was prosecuted for but found not guilty of her murder. Prior to that morning, Mendieta was an emerging, New York City-based artist whose practice combined two modes of art-making popular at the time, performance and land art. Her Siluetas (1973-77) series, the work for which she is best known, was produced during her studies at the University of Iowa, where she received a B.A. in Art (1969), M.A. in Painting (1972), and, finally, a MFA in Intermedia (1978).

Mendieta’s work reflects her identity as a person displaced and uprooted by history. Born in Havana, she became one of over 14,000 unaccompanied minors to enter the U.S. as a ward of the Catholic Church after the Cuban Revolution. Mendieta and her sister Raquelín were ultimately resettled in Iowa, an alien cultural environment where they were shuttled between foster homes and orphanages. In her art, Mendieta used the aesthetic logics of Santería as a method of displaying her cultural attachment to Cuba. 

Not only her artwork itself, but also the organizing and curatorial work she did during her life helped to shine a light on the struggles of immigrants, people of color, and women in an art world that was, and still is, alarmingly lacking those voices. In a landscape that mostly reflected a white, male viewer and artist, Mendieta made work so that she could “do something, step away from it, and see [her]self there afterward.“ The political underpinnings and intentional melding of traditional Cuban spiritual practices with minimalist aesthetics found in Mendieta’s work were indicative of great scholarship and an understanding of the contemporary art scene in which she was working. But her art is often interpreted as either part of a tradition of goddess representations, or inextricably linked to her personal life story — adding a quasi-mystical, “foretold” element to her death. These interpretations exceptionalize her story and are, quite frankly, more reflective of the non-intersectional feminism she fought against during her life than her own, often stated, motivations. Rather than elevating to goddess the status of the female through the use of a distinctly female form, she instead used its image in the earth as an “objectification of her existence.” These popular ways of looking at Ana Mendieta’s work at best play into racist and gendered stereotyping, which disallows people of color and women to work in metaphor, and at worst act as a blaming of the artist for her own death. 

In an attempt to work against both of these oft-used interpretations that flatten the artist’s work and life while making it more palatable for a general audience, THERE IS A DEVIL INSIDE ME will create a space for personal intersection with – for growth from, criticism of, unexpected associations with and stories about – Ana Mendieta.