Press Room

Delita Martin’s large-scale portraits create a new iconography for African American portraiture

Jan 08 2020

WASHINGTON—On January 17, the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) opens Delita Martin: Calling Down the Spirits, a new exhibition showcasing seven monumental works by Delita Martin (b. 1972). Through her work, Martin aims to create a new iconography for African Americans based on African tradition, personal recollections and physical materials. Delita Martin: Calling Down the Spirits is open through April 19, 2020.

Delita Martin creates large-scale prints onto which she draws, sews, collages and paints. She claims space for her subjects, particularly black women, creating a powerful presence that simultaneously highlights the historical absence of black bodies in Western art. Martin uses a variety of techniques to make her work. In any one piece, she may combine up to six or seven processes, including different methods of printing (collagraph, gelatin, relief), drawing in ink or charcoal and stitching various materials onto the surface of the paper.

A recurring theme throughout Martin’s work is the connection between past and present generations, which she locates in a transitional space between the physical and spiritual worlds. She conveys these connections through symbols such as circles, birds and masks. Martin’s birds represent the human spirit. The masks that appear in her works New Beginnings (2017) and The Moon and the Little Bird (2018) are inspired by the Sowei and Ife masks of West Africa and signify communication between worlds.

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National Museum of Women in the Arts