July 21, 2021

IN RESPONSE: Mildred Beltré Martinez’s Embodied Engagements

By Key Jo Lee, Board President

Posted in Category Exhibitions

IN RESPONSE: Mildred Beltré Martinez’s Embodied Engagements
IN RESPONSE: Mildred Beltré Martinez’s Embodied Engagements
IN RESPONSE: Mildred Beltré Martinez’s Embodied Engagements
IN RESPONSE: Mildred Beltré Martinez’s Embodied Engagements

Recently on view at SPACES Cleveland, Reciprocity, Back Back Forth and Forth, Mildred Beltré Martinez’s experimental body of drawings, hand-looped rugs, needlepoint cushions, all dynamically introduced by – or should I say through – a beaded curtain of felted hair, exemplified the temporal ambiguities and necessity for bodily engagement Beltré Martinez is pursuing as she considers the nature of archival encounters. The show’s title outlines a general understanding of healthy exchange, that there must be give and get for effective communication and that this process is never-ending. Interestingly, Beltré Martinez in her collaged drawings, meditates on paper as our a primary means for navigating archives ,and suggesting both its limitations and possibilities.

We depend so much on paper. On the word-filled paper that pads box upon categorized box in archives meant as primary repositories of history. But the archive is built on multiple myths, the most fundamental and damning of which is the notion that history is only as complete as that which can be located scanned and quoted, among those acid-free boxes. Institutional archives can be bloodless in their failure to properly contextualize histories as experienced, rather than as written. Beltré Martinez’s drawings, made of multicolored grids cloaking, or perhaps more accurately pixelating, texts compel one to both squint and open one’s eyes wide, to lean forward and back. In Reciprocity, if one has any hope of apprehension, one must move! These movements testify to the necessity of the body for engagement, and more importantly to the fact that our bodies are themselves archives as each movement is “documented” as muscle memory. In this way, Beltré exploits paper and pigment to make room for that which may be shadowed textually yet known bodily.

I close these brief thoughts with the work that opened the exhibition. That curtain, Ancestry.comb, composed of identically sized spheres of hair collected over time among Beltré’s friends and family, strung in equidistant rows and hung from the gallery ceiling, invited the body to conversation. It’s familiar form, reminding me of the beaded curtain strung across the entry to my childhood apartment, betrayed by its soft, soundless swaying. Its appearance in the white box of the gallery disrupting the overt invitation to walk through, to step on the rugs placed on either side of this floating threshold. This and the artworks beyond demanded an embodied exchange such that I was made aware at every turn of the integrated mind/body work necessary for engagement, but also of the simultaneous necessity and paucity of language for fully conveying experiential truths.

By Andrea Doe

When I was younger
My favorite thing on the playground was the swing
How it would go back and forth
Back and forth
I’d pump my knees propelling harder higher highest
And then I’d jump off
Soaring as if weight never owned me
Until it did
I’d hit the ground after it
And sometimes get sores

I think this is the best metaphor
For our relationship to this country
Back back forth and forth
That is the sound of our progress
These steps to a dance you can’t get down
No matter how many years we’ve taught you

When all we want is givens
Our lives matter as given
Our communities sacred as given
Our cultures priceless as given

But since it is not
The safest place we can play ourselves is at home
If that

Roast hot combs without judgement
Crack and scramble English
Pass around Spanish
Before Sunday masses
We’d file lineages not lines
Grandmother braiding mother’s braiding my hair
They’d weave prayers into those plaits
Hoping they’d stay in long so we wouldn’t have to make stretch marks of our pennies
Knowing good and well we would

And that is what we’ve given
If you have not stolen
After growing our cell cultures away from your hands
Since you forget and forget and forget to read “caution handle with care” labeled on our backs

But for the good ones
We have done flood-it with our stories
A waterfall made of Bantu barbed wire
With both of us looking across
No matter how much we are pricked with difference splashed by misunderstanding
We have both realized
That we aren’t the other’s not
We already are

You want to ask
I want to tell
I want to give
you want to receive
Both of us want to be
But this is done on one condition

Hearing Dominican mothers sing
Ve con Dios mija sending their daughters
With God knowing He’s the only one who’ll send them back

We want it given that the world you run will keep them safe
But seeing our niños smeared atop the sidewalk Tamired by a suit supposed to
Play angel
Or a protector violating his own sisters
We know to clutch past histories in our memories
Like purses

While your landed gentry
Land on our homes and kick us out
Infantry infiltrate us exterminate us
All by overbeing

We remember
We probably never had a chance at history
Cause this world does not belong to us

But we remind
As you continue to hijack our bodies our cultures our lives
Remember you too will die

Related Artist

Mildred Beltré

Mildred Beltré is Brooklyn based artist, mother and activist working in print, drawing and participatory politically engaged practice, to explore facets of social change. She is interested in exploring political movements and their associated social relations and structures. Her most recent work involves looking at revolutionary theorizing and posturing through... go to artist page

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