3. Elizabeth Catlett

Naima

Patinated bronze, 2009

Purchased with the Michel Roux Acquisitions Fund

2014.7

 

Elizabeth Catlett, who was born in the United States. She was the granddaughter of freed slaves and she spent most of her adult and professional life in Mexico. She referred to her art as attempting to “speak for both my peoples.” Catlett moved to Mexico in 1946 after graduating from the University of Iowa with a MFA in sculpture. During her time there, she taught at the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas and joined the Taller de Gráfica Popular, which was an influential printmaking group.

 

Naima

is a portrait bust of Catlett’s own eponymous granddaughter. Portrait sculpture in the ancient world originated in the desire to portray the deceased while lauding their qualities. Later, the art form evolved to include living leaders and heroes, exalted as possessors of ideal personality traits, such as gravitas or dignity. Mesoamerican sculpture tradition also displayed leaders, warriors, and deities, but in contrast to the Romans, did not adhere to realism. Catlett combines these diverse influences, utilizing portrait bust qualities but reducing the sculpture to simplistic, near minimalist shapes—the peak of a nose, two holes for irises, and the minimal delineations of a face, all in the same tonality of brown, save for the green hair tie holding a neatly shaped bun—to depict Naima.