A haunting retrospective at the NSU Art Museum in South Florida celebrates the filmworks of late Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta

Ana Mendieta was one of the most daring and influential artists from the 1970s and early 1980s. Since she began working in 1971 and until her shocking death in 1985, she produced a dramatic body of work that included drawings, installations, performance, photographs, sculptures and, most notably, films.

Mendieta was born in Havana, Cuba in 1948, and she fled the island in 1961, two years after Fidel Castro’s Marxist revolution, arriving in the United States as a refugee in 1961. She lived in various foster homes in Iowa and then attended the University of Iowa, earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in studio and intermedia art. In 1978 she moved to New York and joined the women artists gallery A.I.R.

Mendieta’s merging of sculpture, earth art and performance (earth-body, as she termed it) was a unique artistic expression. Her own life experiences served as the inspiration for her art: the hardship of personal displacement, the loss of connection with one’s past and the pressure to assimilate in a foreign environment.

In celebration of Mendieta’s singular artistic legacy, the NSU Art Museum in Fort Lauderdale is now staging, “Covered in Time and History: The Films of Ana Mendieta,” an exhibit featuring 21 of her films and 26 related photographs. Featured films include the two powerful works “Moffitt Building Piece” and “Sweating Blood,” created in response to the sexual assault and murder of University of Iowa student Sarah Ann Ottens in 1973. Another film, “Mirage,” tells the story of the artist’s separation from her family and home in Cuba through a dual mother/daughter narrative.

Mendieta died in September 1985, from a fall from her 34th-floor apartment in New York’s Greenwich Village. Her husband, sculptor Carl Andre, was tried and acquitted of her murder, but Mendieta’s death at the age of 36, although ruled an accident or suicide, remains shrouded in mystery. With her passing, the world lost one of its most intriguing artists.

“Covered in Time and History: The Films of Ana Mendieta” runs until July 3 at the NSU Art Museum in Fort Lauderdale.