Artist María Martínez-Cañas Sheds Light on Her Photographic Path in Conversation at CHC

by Sarah Block, Library Communications

Artist María Martínez-Cañas

Artist María Martínez-Cañas.

You may have viewed the Quince Sellos Cubanos exhibition at Richter Library without realizing, at least at first, that you’re actually looking at photography. This is not an uncommon response to the style of artist María Martínez-Cañas, nor an unwelcomed one. In visiting the 15 iconic scenes depicting Cuba’s past, reimagined from the artist’s childhood stamp collection, you’re encouraged to take them apart as a way of understanding how they connect and the complex narrative that they together form.

“Photographs can be more than a way of recording the world. They can also be a tool for understanding who you are,” Martínez-Cañas explained during a November 19 event at the Cuban Heritage Collection, where she provided a closer look at how her unique style has helped her explore history, memory, and identity, among many other themes, during a conversation with professor J. Tomás López.

Martínez-Cañas is well known for pushing the boundaries beyond a traditional photograph, experimenting with a variety of materials and formats—analog and digital, color and black-and-white, camera-less and camera-base—in order to capture the image she intends. “It’s ideas,” she explained, “that drive my use of the medium, rather than the other way around.”

J. Thomás López, University of Miami Professor of Art and Art History.

J. Thomás López, University of Miami Professor of Art and Art History

López, a professor of art and art history who serves as head of Electronic Media and Photography at UM, navigated the discussion with topics spanning the course of Martínez-Cañas’ winding and prolific journey, from her early life and fascination with photography in Puerto Rico to the rise of her career and evolution of her work, which she carries out today in Miami.

“I had a curiosity of wanting to understand how the medium works from an early age, developing my first roll of film when I was eight years old. I asked my parents not to park the car in the garage because I wanted to use it as a dark room—and they didn’t!”

Her experimentation with photography in nontraditional forms began while studying at the prestigious Philadelphia College of Art, continuing at the Art Institute of Chicago, where she earned her MFA. She explained that when a Fulbright-Hays grant then brought her to Seville, Spain, she became interested in using the craft as a way to explore her Cuban identity.

“At the time I was trying to figure out what makes me Cuban. I was born in Cuba, but I never had the opportunity to grow up in the country in which I was born…I developed a project working with the maps that Christopher Columbus used to discover Cuba as a foundation for my photographic project. I thought if I used these maps, I will find my background and where I come from and I will connect more with what makes me Cuban. It changed my life.”

After moving to Miami, Martínez-Cañas embarked on the two-year project resulting in Quince Sellos Cubanos (1992). The first series of 15, comprising the 15 gelatin silver prints currently on display at the library, was donated to the Cuban Heritage Collection by Alan Gordich in 2015 along with the limited-edition portfolio Páginas de Viaje (1996).

Quinces Sellos Cubanos will remain on view through spring 2016.

Photos by Andrew Innerarity.


2016-2017 CHC Goizueta Foundation Graduate Fellowships

The University of Miami Cuban Heritage Collection (CHC) is calling for applications for the 2016-2017 Goizueta Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships. Doctoral students who wish to use the rare and historical resources available in the CHC for dissertation research, or explore the Collection pre-prospectus, may be eligible for fellowships between one and three months with stipends ranging from $1,500 to $3,000 per month.

Launched in 2010 with a grant from The Goizueta Foundation, the program has grown to support the research of 67 emerging scholars from 35 universities. Now on its fifth year following a $1 million endowment by The Goizueta Foundation, the program aims to engage emerging scholars with the materials available in the CHC, thus contributing to the larger body of scholarship in Cuban, American, Latin@, hemispheric, and international studies. The 2016-2017 award recipients will be the first class of Goizueta Fellows.

The CHC awards Goizueta Graduate Fellowships in two categories:

Graduate Pre-Prospectus Summer Fellowships

Pre-Prospectus Summer Fellowships will allow doctoral students to determine how the Cuban Heritage Collection may serve their research needs as they prepare the dissertation prospectus. These are exploratory fellowships to determine if research resources in the CHC will support a dissertation. Fellowships of $1,500 will be granted for one month in residence between June 1 and August 31 of 2016.

Graduate Research Fellowships

Research Fellowships will support doctoral students who wish to use the Cuban Heritage Collection as a primary resource for a dissertation. Doctoral students applying for these fellowships will have completed their course work and passed their qualifying examinations. Fellowships of $3,000 per month will be granted for periods of one to three months.

All recipients must be in residence during the course of the fellowship and may not hold concurrent teaching positions.

Information about the fellowships and application process is available online at The deadline for applications, which should be submitted electronically on Interfolio, is Monday, February 1, 2016. Questions? Please write to

Join Us for a Conversation with María Martínez-Cañas and J. Tomás López


“La Quinta Columna Te Espía” in Quince Sellos Cubanos.

University of Miami Cuban Heritage Collection will present a conversation with María Martínez-Cañas, artist of Quince Sellos Cubanos, and J. Tomás López, professor of Art and Art History, at the Roberto C. Goizueta Pavilion on Thursday, November 19, 2015, at 6:30 p.m.

Martínez-Cañas reimagined iconic images from the Cuban stamp collection she’s had since childhood. A limited-edition series of her renowned portfolio, Quince Sellos Cubanos, is now on view at Richter Library. The exhibition features 15 gelatin silver prints alongside the original Cuban stamps that inspired her work.

Martínez-Cañas will discuss her work with Professor López, who is also head of the Electronic Media and Photography area at UM. As a photographer, Professor López’s prints are part of several major collections, including those of the Smithsonian Institution, the National Gallery of American Arts, and the International Museum of Photography.

Please join us for a reception and conversation with María Martínez-Cañas and J. Tomás López on her work and exploration of history, memory, and identity.

The exhibition will run through December 2015.

This event is free and open to the public.

RSVP to Ivett Uria at 305-284-4026 or

Please click map image below to enlarge. Contact us at 305-284-4026 or with questions about directions and parking.8608e468-9c3c-47d6-aaa6-cc3685281391


CHC Hours Update

The CHC will have modified hours during the week of September 7-11. Please note the following holiday and early closure:

  • Monday, September 7: Closed for Labor Day
  • Wednesday, September 9: The CHC Reading Room will be closed all day in preparation for the event Broadcasting Modernity: Cuban Commercial Television, 1950-1960. Researchers will still be able to access and receive assistance from the Conference Room from 9 a.m. through 4 p.m.

For more information, please visit our Hours & Directions page.


Now On View: Natural Cuba

Natural Cuba

An exhibition highlighting the island’s vibrant flora and fauna and their historical depictions, from iconic botanical illustrations to stunning wildlife publications to the beautifully colored specimens of the polymita picta, Cuba’s native tree snail. A series of historical photos, books, and other materials preserved by the Cuban Heritage Collection are now on display through Fall 2015 at the Roberto C. Goizueta Pavilion at the Otto G. Richter Library.