Marta María Pérez Bravo is a pioneer of artistic photography in Cuba, a kind of photography done by artists rather than professional photographers, photo-reporters or photojournalists (although, of course, these can also make works of art). The purpose of this particular form of artistic creation, sometimes called metaphoric photography, is not to document external reality, people's faces, city or country landscapes, or to record scenes of daily or family life, politics or rituals. The objective is rather to explore (or to make spectators discover in the photographic images) the ideas, concepts, emotions, desires, fears, hopes and beliefs that the artist intended to convey.
These two works are dedicated to Palo Monte or to the religion that has Nsambi or Sambiampungo as a fundamental divinity, both in Africa and in Cuba. In the case of Jura, we are witnessing an imaginary initiation ceremony, in which rayamiento (scratching) or small incisions are made on the body of the initiate. These cuts act as protection, as a safeguard and, at the same time, they are expressions of sacrifice and commitment to the sacred power which the person worships. The forms and distribution of such incisions vary depending on the branch of Palo Monte where they are carried out. The image created by Marta reveals a sense of respect and voluntary subjection of the character to the rules by which one is sworn in. In fact, there is no religion, not even a fraternity or political party, or even love engagement that doesn't imply some type of oath, accompanied by some act of sacrifice. I believe that the true beauty of this work is found in the field of ethics as much as in that of aesthetics. It not only summarizes a specific ritual procedure, in this case of Palo Monte, but it also reflects the universal character of surrender, of the commitment that any human being expresses when establishing a relationship with anything considered sacred. In this selfish, pragmatic time of fierce individualism, these messages are uncommon. The image is presented in such way as to give us the impression that we are not the true spectators, but rather that the recent initiate is being contemplated by the eyes of God, of Nsambi.
In Ya no hay corazón, Marta María Pérez takes as a reference the nkisi nkonde or wooden figure covered with nails, knives and other piercing elements that is used in the cultural and religious tradition of Bakongo, to repel the attack of bad spirits or malicious people, among many other functions. For some reason, the nkisi nkonde was never assimilated into the Afro-Cuban religion of Palo Monte. Marta María has incorporated it here to transform her own body into a fetish capable of self-defence against wickedness, slandering, envy or any other threat. The aggressive aspect of the image reflects its function and its force. The same idea is developed by Marta in her work Proteccion, 1990, but this time, using for protection the thorns of the Ceiba, a sacred tree for all our Afro-Cuban religions that is called by different names: Nkunia Sambi (by the paleros) Arabba or Iroko (by the santeros and babalawos) and Ukano Bekonsi (by the Abakua). Be it thorns or nails Marta, or the imaginary character that she embodies in her works, has felt the need to be protected. And in a boastful gesture demonstrating that she already has protection, a shield, the figure shows her breasts transmuted into two pointed weapons of a very different nature than the thorns of the Ceiba: the powerful weapons of femininity.