Rising Up to Calling Down the Spirits: The Art of Delita Martin

Delita Martin's new one-woman show at the National Museum of Women in the Arts kicked off with admission free for all.

Capturing the engaging, colossal print “The Moon and the Little Bird” proved irresistible to museum visitors who crowded into the gallery after the Women’s March.
(Photos: Kelly MacConomy)

Alexandria, VA – Opening during the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend, as the Women’s March rolled into the Nation’s Capital, a new one-woman show at the National Museum of Women in the Arts kicked off with admission free for all. A fitting tribute to the memory of Dr. King, Delita Martin’s works are visual hymns for a dispirited American soul.

Seven works are on view in the Teresa Lozano Long Gallery’s intimate, ground floor exhibit space. The Long Gallery is a community space and the first two floors of the museum never require paid admission. It’s an appropriate venue for Ms. Martin’s works. These exemplary works of a modern African American woman artist belong in a museum, but also demand equal access without concern about increasing private museum admission fees.

Delita Martin utilizes mixed media to create powerful portraits both provocative in composition and evocative of traditional African American craftsmanship and spiritual traditions. Hand-stitching on paper coupled with quilting patterns add to imagery reminiscent of the Gee’s Bend quilters and self-taught Southern Native folk painters. Masks incorporated into her work herald West African traditions rooted in ceremonial icons of Sowei and Ife. The effect is breathtaking.

: “Believing in Kings,” 2018 Acrylic, charcoal, relief printing, decorative papers, hand-stitching, and liquid gold leaf in paper.
(Photos: Kelly MacConomy)

Symbolism, the mainstay of Martin’s muse, is hardly subtle, yet it does not upstage the portraiture. People command the spotlight. There is a story here. There are no facades. Symbols are merely the key to unlocking the mystery between the corporal world and the spiritual plane. As with most art, the titles offer clues: “Soul Keeper,” “Quilted Angel,” “Believing in Kings,” “Dreamer,” “New Beginnings.” The showstopper of the exhibit, “The Moon and the Little Bird,” utilizes the symbol of the bird as spiritual freedom, the rising full moon as enlightenment and rebirth—the circle of life.

Martin is based in Texas, having earned her BFA from Texas Southern University and an MFA at Purdue. She incorporates unusual media such as Conté crayon and charcoal into her print work, and introduces organic materials to her massive paper canvas. Gold leaf harkens to religious iconography and Italian fresco work, traditions of Christianity and mythology.

Virginia Treanor, associate curator of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, discusses Martin’s allegorical work, how she crafts divine imagery in her printmaking with paint, pen, and pencil, metaphorically calling down the spirits from her hand to paper: “Martin expertly combines her drawing and printing skills honed during years of professional training with the sewing and quilting techniques she learned from her grandmother in childhood. This physical layering of technique and material signify the liminal space in which Martin’s subjects exist—between the physical and spiritual worlds.”

“Quilted Angel,” 2015 Gelatin printing , Conté, hand-stitching, and fabric on paper.
(Photos: Kelly MacConomy)

Delita Martin has exhibited nationally and internationally with work at the Havana Biennial, Art Basel Miami, and locally at the David Driskell Center at the University of Maryland. She is a founding member of Black Women of Print and owner of Black Box Studio.

“Calling Down the Spirits” is on exhibit at the NMWA through April 19, 2020. The first Sunday of each month is Community Day, when the entire museum is open with free admission. Come for Delita Martin. Stay for an expansive collection of classic to eclectic works of women, by women, and for women from the 16th through 21st centuries.

On Friday, March 20, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., Martin will discuss her work and sign copies of her new book, Shadows in the Garden, which will be available for purchase. Tickets are $15 for the general public, $12 for museum members, seniors, and students. Be sure to visit the gift shop, chock full of fun female-empowerment themed books, wearable art, jewelry, and decor.

The National Museum of Women in the Arts is the only art institution in the world celebrating women’s achievements in the visual, performing, and literary arts. Located at 1250 New York Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C., the NMWA is open Monday through Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sunday 12:00 noon to 5:00 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for students and adults over 65, and free for youth under 18.

“Soul Keeper,” 2018 Gelatin printing, Conté, acrylic, hand-stitching, gold leaf, decorative papers on paper.
(Photos: Kelly MacConomy)

See More: February 2020 Art NewZ Calendar

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