Based in Huffman, Texas, artist Delita Martin creates work that reconstructs the identity of Black women through the layering of signs, symbols, and language, from historical to modern times. Her powerful, young, female protagonists project strength and confidence rooted firmly in the present, but also remain connected to their spiritual selves. She received a BFA from Texas Southern University and a MFA from Purdue University. Martin’s work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally. Most recently, Martin’s work was shown at the National Museum for Women in the Arts in Washington, DC and welcomed into the Library of Congress.
Colette Copeland (CC): First, congratulations on having your work shown in Venice at the Palazzo Bembo during this year’s Biennale. Your work is part of an exhibit entitled The Afro-Futurist Manifesto: Blackness Reimagined, which is one of a series of exhibits hosted by the European Cultural Center on the theme of personal structures and reflections. Tell us how the show came about.
Delita Martin (DM): Thank you. The exhibition has been an amazing experience. I’m currently represented by Galerie Myrtis in Baltimore, Maryland. The ECC (European Cultural Center) reached out to the gallery and invited them to participate in this year’s exhibition lineup. Understanding the importance of the opportunity, the gallery director of course accepted and formed a committee, who then helped her develop the exhibition’s focus and select the participating artists.
CC: I read that cultural critic and writer Mark Deury coined the term Afrofuturism in 1993 to describe themes of the African diaspora through the lens of science fiction and fantasy. Over the past few years, the term has become part of the greater art lexicon with more exhibitions focusing on artists working within this movement, such as Antwaun Sargent’s 2019 exhibition and book The New Black Vanguard, Mark Sealy’s exhibition for the 2020 Fotofest Biennial in Houston entitled African Cosmologies, and the Metropolitan’s 2021 show Before We Could Fly: An Afrofuturist Period Room, amongst many others. From the exhibits I’ve seen over the past few years, the movement/term has expanded beyond science fiction and fantasy to include themes of utopia, new futures, and new possibilities. How does your work fit with the Afrofuturist movement and what themes resonate most with you?
DM: Each of the artists in the exhibition were asked to interpret their ideals around Afrofuturism and express these through their work. One of the things that I take away from Afrofuturism is that it doesn’t have to be centered around technological advancements, but can extend advancement in other ways both tangible and intangible. This speaks to this greater art lexicon and even sometimes the overlapping Afro-surrealism. My work looks at altering spaces of existence with spirituality through allowing spiritual advancement. We are impelled to explore these altered spaces, allowing our spiritual selves to help us navigate our futures. I call this space the Veilscape.
CC: I definitely see the influence of Afrosurrealism in your work as well, especially with how you utilize the backgrounds and spacial planes in your compositions. I am drawn to your use of mixed media incorporating relief printing with charcoal, acrylic, pastels, and hand stitching, as well as your use of repeating lines, patterns, and symbols that converge with your young female protagonists. Please tell us about the two works in the Venice show — Follow Me Little Bird and Visionary.
DM: The young lady in these two works represents our future, as she is being guided by the spirit world. She sits with confidence on a golden chair in Visionary. Its four legs are symbolic of divine balance. She wears no shoes because she is grounded in who she should be. As she sits, she looks to the future with a bird perched on her arm. The bird in my work represents the spirit of the ancestors. She is surrounded by seed pods, symbolizing growth.
CC: That’s beautiful and poetic. A hopeful message for every young girl.
DM: In Follow Me Little Bird, she stands and offers a gesture of leadership as she navigates the Veilscape. Both works contain circular patterns, which are symbols of the divine feminine. As she moves through the work, there is a push and pull between the figure and the patterns. Sometimes, masking the figure or flattening the figure into a ghost-like form is representative of how we transition between the two spaces.
CC: Your studio is located near Houston in Huffman, Texas, where you founded the Black Box Press Foundation. Tell us more about that initiative and how you integrate your own practice within the foundation’s larger mission.
DM: Black Box Press Foundation was created to serve as a resource for artists and to aid in the creation of exhibitions that bring about change in the community. The foundation offers two unrestricted $5,000 grants to artists for this purpose. I don’t know that my practice really integrates into the larger foundation mission, but my passion for utilizing one’s creative talent for activism was the catalyst. The foundation grants are not restricted to a specific discipline. Diversity is pivotal to its mission to ensure there is a long reach in its impact. What was really important to me was to be able to offer resources that artists could use in a way that would meet their individual needs.
CC: What has been the response to the Venice exhibit and what possibilities for future opportunities might arise from it for you and your work?
DM: The response to the show was incredible. I was able to attend the opening reception and spend a week in Venice walking through the show with visitors. Many of the viewers had insightful questions about the works, as well as about my studio practice. I don’t know what specific opportunities will result from this exhibition, but the work is on the world stage, so I feel certain that this show will impact and expand future opportunities.
The Afro-Futurist Manifesto: Blackness Reimagined is on view at the Palazzo Bembo in Venice, Italy through November 27, 2022.