Review: “A Trajectory of Grief” Traverses Tragedy – Arts

After all, we are all under the same sky (by Monica Martinez-Diaz)

You can’t go home again, but that doesn’t stop artist Maria Martinez-Diaz from trying. A native of Juarez, she’s always considered the city her muse. According to her, “people from Juarez are artists. They notice the little details because they need to.” In previous work, Martinez-Diaz has used the city’s imagery to rage against machines, to spotlight unexpected beauty, to protest unnecessary violence. But her latest exhibit takes her photographic gaze away from what she can say about the city and toward what the city says about her. A beautiful, aching testament to family and home, “A Trajectory of Grief” presents a visual journey through the connective synapses of memory.

It’s about the roots Martinez-Diaz reevaluated after her grandfather’s passing in 2021. A monument to him and to her familial ties in general, her digitally collaged photography offers deeply recognizable glimpses of mourning. The small moments, the inherent beauty in objects, the sudden shift of emotional landscape. Her photos are intricately layered within each individual piece and within the overall display, as layered as the grieving process, as layered as the branches in family trees. Every picture has a story behind it. Every artistic choice is heavy with the weight of memory and meaning. These selections are highly specific to her life but still intensely recognizable to anyone who’s loved and lost.

It’s a stern and sad yearning, a gallery of memories.

In Notes on how to remember, the piece that ostensibly opens the show, Martinez-Diaz builds a wall of text notes from her phone, surrounded by antique objects clipped and framed like fridge magnets. The words share snippets of sorrow in the aftermath of death. It starts with her saying, “I want to archive everything in my brain so I don’t forget.” The ensuing exhibit has that feel of categorizing objects and moments, showcasing the things that loom large in your mind and those that sit at the edge of consciousness. The images reflect that feeling. Some photos are vinyl-stickered and take up entire walls; others are tiny votives tucked in corners or perched on the window. Some are crisply zoomed in on bricks or hands. Some are blurred or obscured under superimposed circles. Tears and rain and sky echo throughout. It tugs at the heart.

In I felt the love of my ancestors, when he became one of them, Martinez-Diaz makes the family tree even more concrete. There’s a background picture of a woman (her cousin) with gardenias in her hair, reminiscent of flowers grown in her grandparents’ garden. It’s covered with archival portraits of great- and great-great-grandparents. For ancestors without photos, rich colors fill their places, along with details of walls from family businesses, trees, and the border itself.

I felt the love of my ancestors, when he became one of them (by Monica Martinez-Diaz)

She melds pictures of people and objects with painstaking grace. It’s stern and sad and yearning, a gallery of memories. One section has a series of pictures of Martinez-Diaz’s grandmother in her Juarez home, framed by heirloom doilies. Every threaded loop is intricately photographed and processed, taking one to two weeks for each one to render perfectly. Within those is one of my favorites, Roads on the hand, featuring a close-up of the comforting veins and wrinkles on her grandmother’s hand. I could feel my own mother’s hand as I looked.

Martinez-Diaz continues that style on another wall, where bright heirloom handkerchiefs rim photos of the sky. Where the doilies are monochrome, the bright colors of the hankies pop with acceptance in sorrow. Color has seeped into life again, as time passes. Sky motifs happen frequently in her work, particularly effective in After all, we are all under the same sky. Due to COVID, Martinez-Diaz was mostly separated from her family while her grandfather was dying. She asked family members to take pictures of the sky in the evening hours. Here, she superimposed them over her own blurred self-portrait, small circles of sky reminding her that despite distance, they have connective tissue – through blood, through memory, through the heavens.

“A Trajectory of Grief” invites you to carefully sift through scenes left in the wake of loss. See the universal emotions between each silhouette and blur. Just as the skies and objects in her pieces connect Martinez-Diaz to her family, those common traits connect the viewer to her. It’s like walking through a cemetery holding hands, a reassuring presence beside your tragedies. It’s a voice saying you are not alone, because you are here with me, and I will hold this with you.

“A Trajectory of Grief” by Monica Martinez-Diaz

Women & Their Work

Open Through July 3

Artist Talk: June 29

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