critical texts


Marta María Pérez. Strategies for imprisoning the soul.
Maikel Rodríguez Calviño
Photography is, beyond the shadow of a doubt, a very powerful weapon to capture the essence of a person. And it seems to be that Marta María Pérez Bravo discovered that a long time ago. However, (what a singular contradiction!), that person is not afraid of dying if her specter is captured by printing that photograph. Quite the contrary: it is the very person who takes her own pictures. So, in a manner of speaking, the artist commits suicide. In a slow, persistent, spaced out, thrifty way, her work grows thanks to the pieces of breath the camera eats and regurgitates on photographic paper.

The tools for such isolation are just a few: Marta María’s eyes —experts on the individuals’ secrets and their images—; the silver and the gelatin on an unimaginable whiteness; her husband’s help; her performance and her body, beginning and end of every idea. The place where the artist decides to extract her own essence is almost always the same: her backyard. And she does it by means of a procedure that takes place during the morning hours. The set design is simple: a white wall, timeless, and as disturbing as the very illustrations it is background of. The procedure: standing in front of the device, awake or while she is dozing, and be.

But the artist’s soul is not imprisoned alone. It carries out with it all the symbols that have been part of it throughout the years and accumulated on her flesh: the hair’s topography; the mythology surrounding women; the feet and knees offered to any saint when paths needed to be opened; the longing for having a house; the thorns forced to germinate to defend themselves; aphorisms and deities from the Regla de Ocha, the popular sayings or the Palo Monte, and the lucky numbers of the Chinese lottery revealed through dreams, those instants in which our shadow leaves the flesh to travel the world. One thing is important: it is not convenient disturbing her while she is slept. Her body needs peace to let her spirit out, through her mouth or the tip of her fingers, and it is in that very moment that the opportunistic iris captures it forever.

The soul results in the reflection of a body subjected to different circumstances —either turned into a boat, into a column for a tureen or into the walls of a house—, and bearer of materials with a strong symbolic impact, of daily repercussion —such as jewels, mud, hair, pieces of cotton, lime, band-aids, knifes, wires, and blankets—, or from the Afro-Cuban and catholic iconography —such as crosses, cauris, palo scrawls, coconuts, bunches of herbs, and "signatures"). She is eclectic in her mysticism: Santa Clara de Asís and Oshún appear united, either in the same cry or after the imperative of protection. While she begs to her Santeria amulet not to forsake her, she raises her arms to the painful constellation of the Virgin of Affection.

She leaves in the real universe a mature body, erotic from her involuntariness, abided to a context where objects preexist, focused on a neutral space, silent and resistant, in a complete isolation, abandoned to the agony of its own despair, pounding even when she is not there. The soul is imprisoned in a dirty and clean receptacle, exuding, attacking and attacked, and lachrymose: the soul of a living woman.

I think Marta stands in front of the camera absolutely without accessories. In this way, the state she shows in her pictures is not her responsibility. The film only captures the real and invisible state of her shadow. But, sometimes, I suspect... Maybe it is the artist herself who undergoes the action of elements in a (theatrical) performance conditioned by her body, following a maternal instinct that demands she must guard substances. Perhaps she considers the final result on the paper like the visual reflection of the underlying state of what you can not see but dwells in the flesh. Or, perhaps, innocence is not allowed to her, and matter and spirit is the same thing, and they complement each other in the iconographic. Or the ashes specters are made of are insufficient, or the creator refuses to a total abandonment of things.

Perhaps Marta María exists no longer. She is probably fragmented in that myriad of women, all different, but all the same, who exhibit their weapons and wait. Or she has made true some dark longing, along with the parts, the whole is gone (stuck to her breath, to her throat) and she is diluted in the blind eternity of her photographs.


Maikel Rodríguez Calviño

Art History BA