“Everybody in my family made art. We would paint, we would draw, we’re storytellers. I was whining because I wanted to go to art school, and I didn’t realize I grew up in an art school! Quilters, storytellers, writers. And this was something that we did every single day. We just woke up and did it.” – Delita Martin
Believing In Kings (detail), 2018; Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Myrtis; Photo by Joshua Asante.
This statement from artist Delita Martin points to her deep investments in telling stories through her artistic work, which includes painting, collage, and quilting. Martin’s current exhibition of work at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, titled Delita Martin: Calling Down the Spirits, explores the Texas native’s emphasis on the multifariousness of the Black female identity and the complexity of its visual representation. According to the artist’s website, her work “deals with reconstructing the identity of Black women by piecing together the signs, symbols, and language found in what could be called everyday life from slavery through modern times. Martin’s goal is to create images as a visual language to tell the story of women that have often been marginalized, offering a different perspective of the lives of Black women.”
Martin uses resonant signs and symbols rooted in African traditions, such as masks inspired by the Sowei and Ife communities of West Africa. Martin also uses photographs of female members of her family and friends as subjects, and seeks to offer a greater understanding of the role of women in African American communities. Thus, her work is influenced by personal memories and experiences, which she uses to question the absence of Black bodies in Western art history and the values and assumptions inherent in accommodating Black bodies into such a canonical narrative. By creating her own narratives of Black identity and heritage, Martin reclaims a space for herself and other Black women within art history and its institutions–structures which have typically prioritized the work and legacies of white artists.
Delita Martin, The Moon and the Little Bird, 2018; Acrylic, charcoal, gelatin print, collagraph printing, relief printing, decorative papers, hand-stitching, and liquid gold leaf on paper. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Myrtis; Photo by Joshua Asante.
The exhibit will feature seven large-scale works, each of which encompasses Martin’s meticulous layering processes and innovative material techniques. The exhibit will be on view until April 19, 2020 in the Teresa Lozano gallery of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. See you there!