Ana Mendieta was a Cuban American performance artist, sculptor, painter and video artist who is best known for her "earth-body" art work. She was born in Havana to a family prominent in the country's politics and society. At age 12, in order to escape Fidel Castro's regime, she was sent with her sister to the United States by their parents. They spent their first weeks in refugee camps before moving to several institutions and foster homes in Iowa. Finally in 1966, Mendieta was reunited with her mother and younger brother; her father joined them in 1979, having spent 18 years in a Cuban political prison for his involvement in the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Mendieta attended the University of Iowa where she earned a BA, an MA in Painting and an MFA in Intermedia under the instruction of acclaimed artist Hans Breder. Through the course of her career, she created work in Cuba, Mexico, Italy, and the United States.
Mendieta's work was generally autobiographical and focused on themes including feminism, violence, life, death, place and belonging. Mendieta often focused on a spiritual and physical connection with the Earth, most particularly in her "Silueta Series" (1973–1980). The series involved Mendieta creating female silhouettes in nature - in mud, sand and grass - with natural materials ranging from leaves and twigs to blood, and making body prints or painting her outline or silhouette onto a wall.
In 1983 Mendieta was awarded the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome. While in residence in Rome, Mendieta began creating art "objects," including drawings and sculptures. She continued to use natural elements in her work.
Ana Mendieta died on September 8, 1985 in New York from a fall from her 34th floor apartment, where she lived with her husband of eight months, minimalist sculptor Carl Andre. Just prior to her death, neighbors heard the couple arguing violently. There were no eyewitnesses. Andre was tried and acquitted of her murder. During the three-year trial, Andre's lawyer described Mendieta's death as a possible accident or suicide.