Flowering Wound

Martha Naranjo Sandoval

Martha’s work is an exploration of the family album and the way it creates communal spaces.

Her practice takes the form of installation, photography, collage, and multimedia pieces using found, inherited, and original family pictures.

One decade ago, Naranjo Sandoval made a decision to move alone from her hometown of Mexico City to New York City. In acclimating to life in the United States, Naranjo Sandoval was acutely aware of the absence of her family’s company. In response, the artist began to create a family album that foregrounded herself as the single member of the unit. The resulting photographs are intimate self-portraits in various settings including in her home, vulnerably unclothed or ascending a stone structure, physically self-possessed.

Over time and as the artist’s family grew and visited, so too did the subjects of her album and 2017 marks the inclusion of portraits of her husband. In Dylan and Martha, Gallatin, August 2023, Sandoval is seen outside with her partner, bodies locked together in an embrace that indicates intimacy. In total Naranjo Sandoval’s family album included more than 480 rolls of photographs. While the artist initially captures photographs based on intuition, her subsequent process of editing and arranging the works is more intentional. Works are edited then categorized into groupings, in a process informed by the work that Naranjo Sandoval does as the owner of the publishing company Matarile Ediciones. Photographs are arranged so as to make connections–both horizontally and vertically on book pages as on gallery walls–that both rhyme and create juxtaposition.

Members of her immediate family also appear in photographs, engaged in activity and set against the backdrop of Mexican and American landscapes. These works point to the cultural nuances inherent to racial categorizations, and underscore the fundamental differences in perceptions of race between the United States and Mexico. While racial prejudice exists in both places, it is governed by distinctly different sets of rules. In the United States, when asked to define her race, Naranjo Sandoval finds herself unable to give a clear answer. Growing up in Mexico, the artist was accustomed to identifying herself as café con leche, or “milk and coffee” because her mother is blanquita (white) and her father is moreno (dark-skinned). Yet these designations are particular to Mexico where, in the words of the artist, “we are aware that brown has many hues.”

Naranjo Sandoval describes her experience in the United States with the racially charged colloquialism “Con el nopal en la cabeza,” literally translated to “a cactus on the head.” The words are often used in a derogatory setting to describe someone who looks Mexican, and often more specifically, appears to be of indigenous descent. As she was repeatedly reminded of the immediate assumptions made about her being and her body, which she confronts head-on with her camera.