Martha Naranjo Sandoval, The Stench of Orange Blossoms @Miriam

JTF (just the facts): A total of 161 color photographs, affixed directly to the wall, unframed, in a broken grid. All of the works are archival pigment prints, made between 2015 and 2022. Each of the prints is sized 4×6 inches (or the reverse) and is available in an edition of 5. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: The Mexican visual artist Martha Naranjo Sandoval moved to New York City in 2014, and has been meticulously documenting her daily life with the same 35mm film camera since then, capturing both the intimate and the mundane moments of her domestic life here. Over that time, her archive has grown to include some 400 rolls, and this solo gallery show features a selection of some 160 color photographs drawn from this body of work and arranged in a loose grid. The Stench of Orange Blossoms is Sandoval’s first exhibition in New York.

The photographs are displayed in the gallery space on three adjacent walls, creating an almost immersive experience. In this installation, the exhibit doesn’t follow any linear storyline and can be viewed in any direction. Constellations of small images are grouped in bunches, and seen together in this considered and intentional arrangement, they create possibilities for narratives. 

Since Sandoval moved to the United States, the concept of “home” became a complex one to make sense of: is it the place where one grows up or a place where one lives and makes a home? With this exhibition, Sandoval asks “What does a family album make, and where will my family pictures end up?” as she collects together photographs from both Mexico and New York City. This integrated archive is a way to consider these questions. As she has very few photographs of her family history in Mexico, this new photo archive is also building her ancestral imagery. In addition to numerous self-portraits, there are shots of family members, friends, domestic environments, and diaristic observations of everyday life, each documented with captions in addition to short descriptions, including the year, the roll, and the individual frame number.

Wrestling with the idea of belonging and identity, Sandoval often turns the camera on herself. One end of the installation starts with a photo titled “Marta and Aurora, Brooklyn, December 2020. Roll 265 | Frame 02” and it captures the artist nude on a bed holding her cat as the sun gently touches her body. And the other end opens with an image of Sandoval standing nude by the window holding a pot of cacti. She later appears photographing her full body reflection in the mirror, walking on the street, standing nude next to the window, and looking straight into the camera with her penetrating gaze. In one shot, she is seen laying on the ground in a lavender dress next to blooming bushes, and the image above her is an old now torn poster with the word “lost” printed in various sizes.

Many photographs in the exhibition include Sandoval’s husband Dylan (they got married in March of 2020, just before the pandemic began). These photos often focus on his long red hair, his face, and his legs. In one picture, he stands outside with trees behind him as sunlight falls on his face emphasizing his red curls, while another image nearby captures him on a bed turning away from the camera. These images are particularly tender and gentle. Photographs of hands and touch are similarly sprinkled throughout the installation, reinforcing the feeling of shared intimacies. Sandoval’s mother also appears intermittently in the series, often captured looking straight into the camera. In one picture, she stands outside while the artist’s arms gently embrace her from behind, again considering and reinforcing ideas of belonging and ancestry.

An American flag captured through the blinds, a pile of cactus fruits, a close up of a tree barks, a bag of lychees on a stoop, a Mexican flag in Brooklyn – Sandoval’s still life observations move between her lives in Mexico and the United States, as she carefully looks at her surroundings, searching for connections and associations. In one photograph titled “Martha, Brooklyn”, a cactus pad is carefully placed on her open palms, a reminder of her home country. The swirling arrangement of the images in this dynamic grid encourages more associations and inviting new narratives.

Sandoval also runs a publishing initiative Matarile Ediciones promoting the work of “artists who are immigrants, their children, or part of a recent diaspora” and publishing a series of small photo zines. Several of the zines also feature Sandoval’s work, one titled Sangre de mi Sangre, meaning “blood of my blood” in Spanish, reflects on her own experience as an immigrant (reviewed here), and a more recent example Como Agua Para Ajolote (meaning “like water for Axolotl”) includes images from her and her family in the United States and in Mexico.

The visual narrative in this gallery show moves between photographs documenting Sandoval’s current life in NYC and shots of her family in Mexico and the city landscape of her home country, creating a continuous back-and-forth searching motion. Sandoval’s photographs are both personal and universal, exploring different facets of her immigrant experience, and many of us can relate to her ever evolving story.

Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced at $250 each. Sandoval’s work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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