Mildred Beltré Martinez: Between Starshine and Clay

March 12 - June 12, 2022

Working across different mediums and materials, Mildred Beltré Martinez presents a diverse body of work evoking a complex range of feelings and possible readings. The exhibit is best experienced as an immersive installation; by toggling back and forth between the various elements on view, one discovers the richness of the artist’s intention. 

Three of the largest works in the show present as fairly straightforward self-portraits. Two have as their base a wash of walnut ink, which the artist made after gathering walnuts, oftentimes with her sister. Ranging in tone from sepia to umber, the ink provides an energetic wash, with the hand of the artist very much in evidence. Beltré Martinez then builds her image using an array of uniformly sized dots, a technique derived from photo-mechanical reproduction. The tonal values of the dots are closely registered with the walnut stain, softening and obscuring the artist’s face, leaving her in the shadows. Is this an oblique way of alluding to the invisibility she experiences as a female artist? Is she luxuriating in, and enveloped by, the rich warmness of those velvety browns—joyous in their multiplicity?

By contrast, the third portrait is an ebullient celebration of color and clarity, crisply set against a white ground. The self-portrait is paired with an oval braided rug, its spiral construction and central deep color exerting a powerful inward pull. The rug reads as a portal to a secret, special place. The pairing of portrait and rug intrigues. Does art provide Beltré Martinez with a magical escape? Is the artist inviting us to follow her into the void? 

Also included in this exhibit are three cross-stitch pieces from the text-based series Slogans for the Revolution That Never Was. Set into elaborately colored and patterned fields are the simple declarative sentences “We probably never had a chance at history,” “The world does not belong to us,” and “Remember you too will die.” The slogans draw attention to the underlying instabilities and stresses present in all of our lives. It is interesting to consider what each might mean to particular individuals and their identities—artist, woman, LBGTQ, BIPOC.

In “Ancestry.comb,” two hooked rugs are bisected by a beaded curtain. Visitors are invited to stand on the rugs and face each other, becoming active participants in the art. The curtain you are peering through is fashioned from the artist’s hair. What is she asking of us? How are we completing this self-portrait?

Beltré Martinez’s art is technically adept and imbued with an animating presence. Whatever form a piece takes, it is always in service of the artwork’s conceptual and emotional themes. There is something expansive and generous about an artist who is willing to include a place for the viewer in the work. No longer a detached observer, you feel empowered to create meaning alongside the artist.

— Mara Williams, Curator Emerita

The title of this exhibition is taken from the Lucille Clifton poem won’t you celebrate with me. In this poem, Clifton talks about willful self-awareness and the ways in which cultural context influences the cobbling together of an identity. Specifically, she is celebrating that for Black women, the formation of self is an act of resistance and resilience.

In my practice I create drawings, textiles, and installations that address feeling, desire, and the weight of expectation in order to express a shifting sense of self that speaks to the complexity of a Black, ethnic, gendered experience. Wholeness.

This exhibition holds two separate yet intertwining bodies of work that have been developed concurrently over the past six years. Skin in the Game is an open-ended series of figurative works. The series began as a way to think about risk. Through this work I consider questions: What am I willing to put on the line for my beliefs, and how do I move toward or away from that commitment to social change and social justice? In what ways do I make myself vulnerable and where do I retreat? Conveying conviction and, at times, confusion, the work teeters between abstraction and legibility. 

Slogans for the Revolution That Never Was is an ongoing text-based series. The text in these pieces is sometimes obscured or difficult to read. This gesture undercuts the idea of the “slogan,” which is meant to be clear, declarative, and easily taken, replacing it with something that requires a closer reading. Other times the message is quite legible, but made in a way that is quite labor-intensive. The amount of time it takes me to make the piece creates a sense of intimacy and transforms the statement from an external chant to a quiet meditation. 

— Mildred Beltré Martinez


May 14, Saturday, 5 p.m. — Celebration of Spring Exhibits


Virtual tour
Installation shots
Listen to Lucille Clifton recite “won’t you celebrate with me”
Ask the Artist!