Mendieta, Mourning and Melancholia

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“ In conceptualising public mourning, one should ask how pain or trauma might manifest in a collective, particularly amongst those who do not have a direct, personal relationship with the deceased or their immediate family. How do the politics of mourning as a collective change how pain is felt? And how does this problematise their ‘right’ to mourn? Darian Leader (2008) suggests that public mourning functions as a means for one to access and express personal grief. Leader maintains that such expressions of grief are rarely toward the deceased, “Rather, it is precisely the public framework that allows people to articulate their own grief” (Leader, 2008, p. 76-77).

Subsequently, one should acknowledge that the reaction to Mendieta’s death relates to a history of feminist action. Since the 1960s, feminist art history and practice has aimed to narrate “power relations and dominant values” through examining and subverting the visual culture (Milner, Moore and Cole, 2015, p. 143). The feminist art practice seeks to expose cultural ‘blind spots’ to produce more “complex, inclusive and comprehensive histories and theories” (ibid). The concern regarding Mendieta’s representation relates to six decades of a feminist movement that has sought to examine the relationship between societal and cultural structures and individual acts (ibid).

I apply Leader’s understanding of public mourning in my analysis. I argue that the public displays of grief are not solely expressions of mourning for the deceased Mendieta. They are expressions of more personal grief felt due to the “variety of injustices” that relates Mendieta to the politics of representation and violence against women (Blocker, 1999, p. 2). I connect the public memorial of Mendieta to examples of feminist memorials displayed in her Rape performances (1973) and Suzanne Lacy’s and Leslie Labowitz’s performance of In Mourning and In Rage (1977).

Additionally, I propose a relationship between the practice of counter-memorial and the work of melancholia. In doing so, I do not suggest that the method of counter-memorial is an element of a “pathological condition” (Freud, 1916; 1957, p.256). Instead, I associate the political device of feminist counter-memorial as analogous to unresolved mourning. The political device of grief and melancholia displayed in the examples of feminist counter-memorial indicate the complexity of grief which goes beyond Freud’s definition of mourning as a singular and internal endeavour.

The function of counter-memorial redefines the Freudian identification of mourning and melancholia into a device for future reform. While Mendieta’s posthumous reception mirrors her own politically charged display of grief in her practice, she must not become lost in the details of her death. The counter-memorial concerning Mendieta, while somewhat melancholic, keeps her work, memory and ideals alive and open to an evolving interpretation. Mendieta’s work, at its core, was a challenge to the hegemonic structure of the art world and society. In this sense, her counter-memorial would appear to honour this inherent motivation.”


Blocker, J. and Mendieta, A. (1999). Where is Ana Mendieta? Identity, Performativity, and Exile, Durham: Duke University Press.

Freud, S., Strachey, J. and Freud, A. (1957). On the History of The Psycho-Analytic Movement, Papers on Metapsychology, and Other Works. London: Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psychoanalysis.

Leader, D., (2009). The New Black: Mourning, Melancholia and Depression, London: Penguin Books.

Millner, J., Moore, C. and Cole, G. (2015). Art and Feminism: Twenty-First Century Perspectives. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art, [online] 15(2), pp.143-149. Available at: [Accessed 9 Dec. 2019].

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