Amy Zaleta-Martinez: Fashion Icons

MARFA – “Fashion Icons” will run from October 29, 2019 through November 3, 2019 with an opening reception on November 1, 2019 from 6 to 8 p.m. Located within the Hotel Paisano ballroom, this show is a colorful modern interpretation of a classical icon painting. The collection is currently traveling back to Los Angeles having just been on view in New York City, and this exhibition will be its second showing.

Several years ago, in the midst of a faith crisis brought on by a series of disappointments from her faith community, artist and designer Amy Zaleta-Martinez began to design dresses for female martyrs in her sketchbook. This led to a multi-year long project of research into female martyrs, their stories, and means of martyrdom. While it may seem like an odd pairing, or perhaps even a frivolous one, the project lays bare the struggle of women throughout history; the punishing outcome of women who speak out, stand up and dare to claim their independence.

The artist found an intimate affinity to these women who were tortured and killed for their convictions. Convictions that intersected with faith and their own desire to practice it in the way that they wished (some spurned becoming a wife and mother to pursue their faith, a dangerous stance at a time when that was all women were designated to become). Regardless of how we may view these women and their faith in the shadow of our contemporary moment, their actions and stance against social norms and culture is one that resonates with anyone wishing to live freely to do as they will – specifically with women today in the midst of #MeToo, the Kavanaugh hearings, Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, etc. Zaleta-Martinez’s portraits subtly connect the present narrative of harassment and violence against women with the past.

In the portrait series, the women martyrs are given a fashion makeover as they are illustrated with current style elements in mind. The artist has created a form of bespoke design that parallels the tradition of icon paintings of the Byzantine era; each of the works are pictorially coded to tell the story of each martyr’s reason for death and the details of their torture. (Saint Lucy daintily holds her eyeballs on an elegant dish signifying the means of her torture.) The interpretation of the martyrs through a sartorial lens is a fascinating proposition given that the women’s fashion industry is often seen as objectifying women. The synthesis in these portraits repositions the power that fashion can have on women as it serves to interpret the moment of their ultimate vulnerability. While these martyrs have been represented many times since the Renaissance, Zaleta-Martinez’ approach is singular in that she pays attention to the ethnic origins of the women and she consciously chooses to position them in couture referencing their historic time period. There has always been power in clothing, it informs our stance and visually builds a narrative of who we are and aspire to be. To present these women through this lens provides a means of honoring them while also infusing them with a kind of subversive power to address our current cultural moment.