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Portrait of Marta Palau

Born in Albesa, Spain, in 1934, Marta Palau was exiled with her family to Tijuana, Mexico, in 1940 after the defeat of the Second Spanish Republic (1931–39). In 1955 she began her studies in painting and sculpture at the Escuela Nacional de Pintura, Escultura y Grabado "La Esmeralda" in Mexico City. She also studied engraving with Guillermo Silva Santamaría (1921–2007) at the Taller de la Ciudadela in Mexico City as well as with Paul Lingren (1923–1989) at San Diego State University. In the late 1960s she moved to Barcelona to study textile techniques with Josep Grau Garriga (1928–2011) and thereafter decisively made this medium integral to her practice. By manipulating texture, volume, and scale to physically engage the viewer and surrounding space, Palau soon attained wide recognition for her sculptural treatment of textiles. During this period she began shaping her material into biomorphic forms whose fleshlike texture, sensuous folds, and perforations or slits manifested sexual undertones.

In the mid-1980s Palau reconceived her sculptures as indigenous magical objects, and in 1990 the Naualli (sorcerer or witch in the Nahuatl language) became a constant motif in her work. Alluding to the primal and ritualistic, Palau, in her work with the Naualli, often weaves together vaginal imagery and diverse organic materials—plant fibers, dirt, clay, and salt—to pose as symbolic guardians against hegemonic Western aesthetic forms. Palau also began experimenting with the liminality between sculpture and architecture, creating ephemeral murals as well as large-scale installations of barriers made with woven-straw mats, tree branches, or found wood.

Palau has garnered several awards and distinctions in Mexico and abroad. In 1986 her work Bastones de mando (Scepters, 1986) won the award for best installation at the 2nd Havana Biennial. In 1993, 1997, and 2003 Mexico's Fondo Nacional para La Cultura y las Artes presented her with the Creador Artístico award. In 2001 she received the Premio Cultura 2000 at the Bienal Internacional Estandartes in Tijuana. In 2002 the Universitat de Lleida in Lérida, Spain, conferred on her an honorary doctorate. Palau lives and works in Tijuana and Mexico City.

—Mari Rodriguez Binnie

Selected Exhibitions

1974 Del tapiz a la escultura, Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City

1978 Marta Palau: 30 esculturas en materiales textiles, Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City

1985 Mis caminos son terrestres, Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City

1986 Exposición resultado del taller Marta Palau, Museo de las Artes Decorativas, Havana

1990 Naualli, Museo de Arte Moderno del Centro Cultural Mexiquense, Toluca, Mexico

2004 Lo uno y lo múltiple y todas las guerras, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Alfredo Zalce, Morelia, Mexico

Selected Bibliography

Barrios, José Luis, et al. Marta Palau: Naualli. Mexico City: Turner, 2006.

Eder, Rita. Marta Palau: La intuición y la técnica. Morelia, Mexico: Gobierno del Estado de Michoacán, 1985.

Garduño, Blanca, and José Antonio Rodríguez. 52 mujeres en el arte mexicano: Una visión social y de género. Mexico City: Secretaría de Desarrollo Social, 2005.

Marta Palau: Naualli; Escultura, pintura e instalaciones. Monclova, Mexico: Museo Biblioteca Pape, 1992.

Marta Palau: 30 esculturas en materiales textiles. Mexico City: Museo de Arte Moderno and Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, 1978.