Posted by: willconley1025 | December 12, 2021

Ana Mendieta and Visual Culture

There have been multiple times this semester when something I’ve learned in one of my other classes has made me think of topics we’ve covered in this class (or vice versa). One of these times was in my Spanish class (which focuses on violence, gender, and queer identity in Latin America), when we had class in the art museum and watched a short film called Silueta Sangrienta (bloody silhouette) by Ana Mendieta. It’s a two-minute video that shows a human-shaped hole in the ground, filled with what appears to be blood, then shows the artist lying in the hole. (Unfortunately I could not find a link to the video, but I have included a screenshot of it below.) It’s part of Mendieta’s Siluetas series, a long-term project that consists of over 200 images and videos of human silhouettes in various natural settings.

A lot of the connections that I’ve made between this class and others have been fairly loose, and this is definitely one of them. Mendieta’s work isn’t directly related to any kind of Victorian art or culture, but Silueta Sangrienta (and the Siluetas series in general) made me think about some of the ideas about visual culture that we’ve discussed in this course. Mendieta’s silhouette images are often deliberately unsettling; I wasn’t quite sure how to respond or what to think about them, and I’m sure that effect was intentional. The disquieting effect of the images made me think of different disturbing images, such as the famine photographs we viewed. The basic emotions of discomfort that I felt were similar with both sets of images, but the context for those emotions was very different. There are obviously a lot of ethical issues with visual representations of tragedy and suffering, and part of the discomfort (at least for me, and I’m sure for many other people as well) comes not only from the disturbing images themselves but also from the knowledge that, in many cases, the people in question didn’t consent to their suffering being exploited in this way. Mendieta’s images, on the other hand, are created entirely by her; she is in control of what is being portrayed and how. Her photographs that depict blood, fire, and other things that may imply violence are certainly disturbing, but in a way that emphasizes the artist’s agency and her relationship with her body and the land.

Another thing about Silueta Sangrienta that I found interesting was the video format. Most of the entries in the Siluetas are solely photographed, while this one is a video but is silent and largely portraying one consistent image. The overall effect is uniquely unnerving, and made me uncomfortably aware of my role as an observer. In a way the film walks the line between video and photograph, and I felt strange and almost voyeuristic looking at it. It was an interesting experience that made me think about the evolution from painting to photography to video recording, and the different ways that things can be portrayed in these formats.

A screenshot from Silueta Sangrienta

Artnet. “Ana Mendieta.”

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