EXPLORE: Delita Martin
Note to Teachers:
Content is suitable for all ages. Please scan all material to determine whether it is appropriate for your students.
"Sometimes I think the viewer thinks that artists go straight to the canvas and the work is done. I would say to them that a work of art is a conversation or an idea that is developed."
Delita Martin layers materials and media to visualize connections between women, present and past, recognizing the bond between generations of women. She is interested in what is seen and what is unseen in our lives. Printmaking, collage, sewing, painting, and drawing work together to connect her work to family history and ancestorial traditions. She uses old photographs, objects, and study of traditional coming of age ceremonies to develop a visual vocabulary of mimetic and symbolic representation. Her many paintings include potent symbols such as circles, moon shapes, designs inspired by West African Sowei and Ife masks. Specific colors are meant to connect time and space, innovation and tradition, and physical and spiritual worlds. 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.” (blackboxpressstudio, n.d.. para 2) Traditional images of power are challenged in Martin’s depiction of intergenerational female connection.
National Museum of Women in the Arts (2020) Delita Martin: Calling Down the Spirits.
The site includes a gallery of images and brief curatorial statements about her show at The National Museum of Women in the Arts from January-April 2020.
Black Box Press Studio (2021) Delita Martin demonstrates what becoming spiritual looks like.
A concise review of Martin’s work shown at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas by her studio and published by Hyperallergic
Huete, B. ( 2018, June 23) Delita Martin’s ‘The Dinner Table’ at Art League Houston, Glasstire
The “Dinner Table” welcomes a viewer into an empty white dining table surrounded by lithographic portraits of 150 black women on wall plates. The spareness of the room invites examination of the powerful connections between the plate portraits, the artist, and the viewer
Martin narrates an online “gallery walk” of her show at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
In this museum artist talk and Q and A Martin tells of her work with John Biggers, her current process, and the stories told by her family that informed her artmaking as an adult.
Butcher, J. (2020). Interview with Delita Martin. Number.
Martin discusses the material and the conceptual layers in her work. Her work uses printmaking, drawing ,sewing, collage, painting, and text. Her research processes include genealogy, vintage photos, reading and writing. These layers are built upon the study of oral stories and traditions.
Topics for Further Inquiry
The concept of Liminality can be used to examine Martin’s work or be introduced as a topic for student exploration. Liminality is a threshold, an in between state, phase or transition. (Merriam Webster https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/liminal) It can imply uncertainty, possibility, and waiting. One example of a liminal space is a classroom at 3 am waiting for the action of the day. It can a refer to in-between times as in rites of passage when an individual is transitioning from one stage of life to another. In Martin’s work she references the role of older women in the liminal stages of a younger woman’s life. Her work explores liminality as she looks at in between times, spaces, and connects physical and spiritual worlds.
Delita Martin’s work is directly influenced by her mentor, John Biggers. Biggers saw his work as a muralist, painter, and educator as a duty to depict the spirit of his community and serve his people. His depictions of everyday life are understood within the context of racism in the United States in the time he began his public work after World War II. After the opportunity to travel to Ghana, Nigeria, Togo and Benin, his work became more metaphoric using symbols from a west African heritage and themes of emergence and transformation. A common theme in his work is women engaged everyday tasks believing that domestic life provides symbols that have universal meaning. Biggers obtained degrees in Art Education and a PHD in education and was personally mentored by Victor Lowenfeld.
Wardlaw, A. (1995) The art of John Biggers: View from the upper room. Harry N. Abrams