Portrait of Marta María Pérez

The Mexican-based photographer Marta María Pérez was born in Havana in 1959. She graduated with a degree in painting from the Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes San Alejandro in Marianao, outside Havana, in 1979 and from the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana in 1984. Since the mid-1980s Pérez has made black-and-white photographs that typically show a part of her body (rarely her face) in what Ana Belén Martín-Sevillano has described as a "static performance."# A trademark of Pérez's staged photographs is the centrality of an image that is both surrounded by a diffused focus and contrasted against an iridescent white background. Combining parts of her body, often arranged in unconventional ways, with objects such as oars or candles, Pérez references aspects of the Afro-Cuban religions of Santería and Palo Monte. Uninitiated in these religions, she has nonetheless turned to Afro-Cuban mythology to express female spirituality. Titles function in her photographs as inscriptions recalling omens based on Santería or Palo Monte beliefs but also directed to the experience of being a woman. For instance, in the series Para concebir (To conceive, 1985–86) and in Macuto (1992), she brings to the fore her own experience as a mother. Macuto articulates motherhood as devotion and the artist's drive to protect her twins, who are represented in the charm Pérez holds in front of her heart. Nevertheless, some of the works in this series are transgressive of the taboos related to maternity and the feminine in these syncretic belief systems.

Her work, along with that of the artists Juan Francisco Elso Padilla (1955–1988) and José Bedia (b. 1959), is paradigmatic of a time when Cuban artists were renewing their artistic vocabulary while rediscovering their non-Western roots. As a woman and a photographer, Pérez is unique in her exploration of Afro-Cuban beliefs through the lens of gender. Her work has been included in many international exhibitions, such as the Havana Biennial (1989, 1991, 2006, 2009), 21st Bienal de São Paulo in Brazil (1991), and 5th Istanbul Biennial (1997). Her photographs are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, FL; Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana; Pori Art Museum, Finland; Ludwig Forum, Aachen, Germany; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; and Museo Español e Iberoamericano de Arte Contemporáneo, Badajoz, Spain. Since the mid-1990s Pérez has lived and worked in Mexico City.

—Marcela Guerrero

Selected Solo Exhibitions

1995 Viven del cariño, Espacio Aglutinador, Havana

1998 Algo mágico, Centro de la Imagen, Mexico City

1999 Marta María Pérez Bravo, Galería Ramis Barquet, New York

2012 Vidente, Galería Fernando Pradilla, Madrid

2013 Esprits de corps, Maison de l'Amérique Latine, Paris

Selected Bibliography

Bettelheim, Judith. "Palo Monte Mayombe and Its Influence on Cuban Contemporary Art." African Arts 34 (Summer 2001): 36–49, 94–96.

Herzog, Hans-Michael, ed. La Mirada: Looking at Photography in Latin America Today. Zurich: Daros Latinamerica Collection, 2002.

Marta María Prez Bravo, fotografía / Flavio Garciandía, pintura. San José, Costa Rica: TEOR/éTica, 2003.

Martín-Sevillano, Ana Belén. "Crisscrossing Gender, Ethnicity, and Race: African Religious Legacy in Cuban Contemporary Women's Art." Cuban Studies 42 (2011): 136–54.

Rouquié, Alain, Christine Frérot, and Juan Antonio Molina Cuesta. Marta María Pérez Bravo: Esprits de corps. Paris: Association pour la Fondation France-Amérique Latine, 2013.