Helena Martin Franco

Dominique Allard
  • Helena Martin Franco, La planète des seins; Entre le cœur et la trompe, series Étude pour habiller une femme éléphant, 2011.
  • Helena Martin Franco, Ça trompe, 2012.
  • Helena Martin Franco, Algues, from the series Frontières, 2015.
  • Helena Martin Franco, Un autre paysage sous marin, de la série Frontières, 2015.
  • Helena Martin Franco, Étoile de mer, de la série Frontières, 2015.
  • Helena Martin Franco, Frontières I, 2014.

The Elephant Woman

The underlying themes in Colombian-born Montréal artist Helena Martin Franco’s work are identity and alterity, explored via the body and the creation of autofictions. Through various projects in diverse media featuring fictional protagonists (Coeur Déphasé, Fritta Caro, the elephant woman) described as “identity collages,” Martin Franco makes visible the porosity of borders among cultural, national, and gender identities. Exemplary of this approach are the watercolours from Étude pour habiller une femme éléphant (entre le cœur et la trompe), based around a character inspired by the expression “tener el moco en el suelo” (literally, with its trunk to the ground). By embodying intimist subjects, the elephant woman opens the way to excavating gender archetypes inherited from the Judeo-Christian tradition and consolidated by anachronistic narrative models (movies, soap operas, love songs, advertising) that foster women’s sense of guilt and conformity. Martin Franco appropriates these models, which are popular in her country of birth, making her bedroom into a studio for creating other, often reconstructed, identities. Echoing the feminist slogan “The personal is political,” this series draws attention to life in a couple, understood as a microstructure in which power dynamics are played out, thus illustrating the permeability of the public and private spheres.

In Frontières, Martin Franco pursues a similar theme by blurring the lines defining gender identity. In a rejection of all extremes, the watercolours in this series, with their diffused contours, present the body as a territory constantly redefined, in particular, by religious and institutional norms. Some of her works (including La planète des seins, 2011) were withdrawn from a Maison de la culture de Montréal because they apparently offended the sensibilities of the school-age public and the area’s cultural communities. If this censorship offers an invitation to reflect on “the policy of Montreal cultural institutions with regard to nudity in art,” it is, in Martin Franco’s view, indicative of a “fear of nudity, of women’s sovereignty over their bodies, and of autonomous gestures by women artists.”

Translated from the French by Käthe Roth

Captions
Images 1 and 2: Helena Martin Franco, La planète des seins; Entre le cœur et la trompe, from the series Étude pour habiller une femme éléphant, 2011. Photos: courtesy of the artist
Image 3: Helena Martin Franco, Ça trompe, 2012. Photo: courtesy of the artist
Image 4: Helena Martin Franco, Algues, from the series Frontières, 2015. Photo: courtesy of the artist
Image 5: Helena Martin Franco, Un autre paysage sous marin, from the series Frontières, 2015. Photo: courtesy of the artist
Image 6: Helena Martin Franco, Étoile de mer, from the series Frontières, 2015. Photo: courtesy of the artist
Image 7: Helena Martin Franco, Frontières I, 2014. Photo: courtesy of the artist

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