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The work of the Cuban American artist Ana Mendieta has often been criticized for embracing the traditional alignment of woman and nature, an alignment which is generally perceived as reliant upon essentialist ideas about female identity. Recent commentators have defended Mendieta's work against the charge of essentialism by interpreting her work through the lens of Judith Butler's idea of gender as performance. Mendieta's work, it is argued, destabilizes identity by emphasizing the repeated performances of this alignment. In other words, the emphasis falls on the ‘deed’ rather than the ‘doer’, to use Butler's terms. While the capacity of Mendieta's work to sustain these different readings points to its richness, essentialism still remains a scare term, despite feminist literature from the 1980s and 1990s. This article considers Mendieta's Silueta series in the light of this reconsideration of essentialism.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of New South Wales

Publication date: February 1, 2007

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