Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Art History


Rose-Carol Washton Long

Committee Members

Sally Webster

Laurie Schneider-Adams

Juan Martínez

Subject Categories

American Studies | Fine Arts | History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology


Fine Arts, American Studies, History of Art, History of Architecture, History of Archaeology


This dissertation investigates the artistic development of Ana Mendieta (born Cuba, 1948; died United States, 1985) from 1969 to 1977 when she lived in Iowa City, attended the University of Iowa, worked as an art teacher, and established herself as an artist. Mendieta is known for her early performance pieces and earth-body sculptures. From the late 1980s her work has been increasingly included in the contexts of feminist art history, performance, photography, work in nature, body art, self-representation, Cuban art, and transcultural identity. Collected by major museums throughout the United States, her work has begun to be included in surveys of world art. Her approach to earth-body art differed significantly from the new forms of conceptual art of the 1960s and early 1970s. By 1974 the artist had begun to produce ephemeral body-earth pieces in Iowa and Mexico that endowed nature with a human form, personifying it and evoking nature's lifecycle. That work evolved from both painting and performance-oriented work that layered multiple references, with sources as diverse as her autobiography, everyday life, transcultural myths, Catholic subjects, and Western and non-Western art and archaeology.

This study begins with Mendieta's exile from Cuba and relocation in Iowa, then examines her evolution as a graduate student in painting (1969–1972), a Multimedia student (1972–1977), and an elementary art school teacher (1973–1975). Mendieta. developed during a period of intense collaboration between the university's Multimedia area and the Center for New Performing Art, two unique programs that encouraged interdisciplinary, experimental performance work. In contextualizing that innovative period, I investigate the artist's learning environment and studio practice. I also examine works that have not yet been written about, elaborate the circumstances of their creation, identify the sites and the assistance the artist had in making or performing them, incorporate her written sketchbook notations for them, and relate the substance of her comments regarding intentions for specific pieces.

This study incorporates oral histories from previous instructors, colleagues, friends, and acquaintances and discusses the artist's responses in her work to well-known visiting artists such as Robert Wilson, Vito Acconci, and Scott Burden, who performed and lectured at the university. Mendieta's early and middle production has not been examined in the literature within the larger artistic milieu at the university. This study remedies this omission and presents a contextual reading of the artist's work, thereby locating her practice within contemporary art history wherein performance, body work, and earth art were key expressive modes.


Digital reproduction from the UMI microform.