It's a monument to the people who died and who survived and who were exiled.
—Monica Mercedes Martinez, artist
A Winnipeg artist, Monica Mercedes Martinez, is the sole Manitoban to be nominated for the RBC Emerging Artist People's Choice Award. The award recognizes a ceramic artist whose work receives the most
votes from the public. The winner will receive a $10,000 cash prize.
"I'm really honoured," she say. "A lot of the people in this show are people I've followed for quite awhile."
Martinez's work is comprised of a number of crosses made of terracotta and porcelain paperclay (clay with paper pulp mixed into it), all piled in a corner.
"The piece is about the Chilean coup," she explains."It's about me
processing all of that - usually very horrible - information as a solid
way to work through my own history with it. So I put all of this anger
and emotion that I didn't realize I was carrying with me into this work."
Detail of "everything is fallen except us fallen..." (Frances Juriansz)
Martinez's family was forced to flee Chile after her father was imprisoned. She was six months at the time.
The work is called everyone is fallen except us fallen
..., which is a line from a poem by Chilean poet Raul Zurita. She says he was a radical poet who was interned during the Chilean coup. A lot of his poetry is about that time and his experiences staying in Chile and not emigrating. She found this poem gut-wrenching.
Some of the crosses are splintered or broken. "The reason is because so many people were broken by the experience, either physically, or mentally, or emotionally," she says. "It's a monument to the people who died and who survived and who were exiled."
Sept. 11 marked the 40th anniversary of the coup. She notes that many people want to leave the terrible memories in the past, to move forward and try to forget. "For me, that's not a way I can deal with it," she says. "I've worked through my stages of grief with this work."
Monica Mercedes Martinez (Andrea Ratuski/CBC)
Martinez is particularly drawn to clay as a medium. "The reason I work in clay is because of the weight of it. It grounds the work to the floor. We're talking about time and history, and there's so much history in clay itself - historically and politically - so it works out to be quite the medium for me."
She also feels a strong connection with terracotta artifacts found in the Andes. "Most of our unwritten history is in the ceramics that survive," she says. "That's another reason why I enjoy using it for my work, because I can make something and then in a thousand years someone can find it again. It's a way for me to connect with history."
After the show closes in Toronto on Oct. 15, she hopes people will take some of the forms away with them. "I'd like to share my work that way and then they can carry the experience away with them," she says.
The RBC Emerging Artist People's Choice Award will be handed out on October 15 at the Gardiner Museum in Toronto.
Related: Chilean resistance films the focus at Cinematheque