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What Makes an Immigrant? These Floral Paintings Seek an Answer

Jet Martinez tackles immigration, culture, and the handmade object in his new solo show.
Images courtesy of the artist.

From afar, these paintings might seem like parts of a quilt or an embroidery hoop, but for his solo show, Mayflowers, Jet Martinez created ink and acrylic on ink pieces that mimic the detailed nature of embroidered floral patterns. Although he does use embroidery in one piece, most of the works in the show are made in different mediums but with the same stylistic approach as traditional Mexican embroidery.


Martinez grew to love floral patterns from areas like the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, ones which "have become an iconic symbol of Mexican folk arts." Over time, though, Martinez realized he didn't want to feel like he was culturally appropriating the pieces and presenting them as his own.

A Mexican American artist, Martinez wants to create pieces that will ultimately merge styles from various cultures in order to create something that pays homage to indigenous communities in a way that feels more unique and complex.

"While my springboard to the work has been Mexican folk arts, I have also taken elements from various folk art forms throughout the world," Martinez tells Creators. "The hope is that the pieces will feel familiar to viewers from many cultures, while still retaining an ambiguousness."

In Mayflowers, Martinez references the role of the artisan and the process of making beautiful objects. By focusing on "the beauty of the handmade," Martinez imbues each piece with what he calls "interesting color plays" and vivid details. He wants the viewers to see his craftsmanship clearly, to feel as if the pieces are "natural products of [his] practiced hand" that are "squeezed from [his] hand like juice from an orange."

The artisan plays an important part in many cultures and the art of making something is ultimately universal. The show tackles the ways in which cultures are more alike than different, especially in defiance to narratives that disenfranchise certain groups more than others.


The title, Mayflowers, is a subtle reminder that almost all stories in this country, except indigenous stories, are stories of refugees and immigrants." The show, therefore, serves as a way to "celebrate that blending of cultures" and highlight the way in which all cultures shares "the creating of folk art objects to beautify and give meaning to our lives."

Immigration is a complex topic, one that is especially relevant right now. In the complex pieces of Martinez, the viewer finds a space to reflect on which stories have been given more weight than others.

"It feels sometimes, like white people in this country conveniently forget that theirs too is a story of refugees and immigration. The Mexican story, in many ways is more synonymous to the ideal nativist American story."

Martinez often portrays nature in his pieces; these natural elements also seem to overlap in the art of various cultures. In portraying "shared Natural experiences," the artist draws out the ways in which we might find commonality in visual culture.

"As I have traveled throughout the world, I have seen variations of this familiar theme on several continents," says Martinez. "I have seen it in ceramics from Italy, or Chinese silks, or Norwegian wood cravings and on and on. Clearly, all people feel a need to represent their surroundings. I feel that need too."

To learn more about Martinez's work, click here. Mayflowers is on display at Athen B. Gallery until June 2.


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