remarkable presence

Suitcase made by artist Jen Urso, honoring a man who owned his own glass business and served as pastor to help recovering drug addicts. 73 yrs old.

Jen contacts me in April: Hi Monica, I’ve been meaning to write to you. First, I’m so sorry about your brother passing, and I believe your father as well? I know you and I can probably relate on all the strange feelings that come along with this loss. I believe I remember you posting that your brother’s death was related to COVID and since you mentioned he was your dad’s caretaker, I made the assumption that this is what claimed your dad as well. I mention this because the project I’m working on is about grief and COVID deaths. Although I’m focusing on Arizona, with your permission I’d like to create a suitcase for your brother and dad to give to you, as a remembrance and way to honor them. You may have seen some of my posts about this project but if not, I can share some imagery of what I’m doing. I can give the suitcases directly to you or first include them in the exhibit at Walter Art Gallery in September.

I should note Jen lost her sister Tina, to ovarian cancer, this last December of 2020.

We keep in touch. I watch as Jen shares on social media, her careful and thoughtful process of folding (with the help of family and friends) and installing over 18,000 suitcases, including a display of pop up suitcases, utilizing COVID-related obituaries.

I recall sending dad’s and Chacho’s obits to her. Not having looked at them in a while, I see new photos my brother’s friends added. I reread them and feel my sisters and I captured their individual qualities well. Jen tells me about writing her sister’s obituary. We share our individual experiences of losing a sibling and especially in this unusual time of physical distancing. I could see she related to things I was saying and vice-versa. We laughed as we shared some stories of our loved ones and cried as we shared others.

I know this was not easy for Jen, but she moved through all the various parts of this work with what felt like complete openness and care. Today she sends a ↓ photo and writes, your brother and dad, together. I’m touched as I recognize the words we wrote.

Thank you Jen, for holding space for life lost to Covid. Thank you for remembering my dad and my brother. Thanks for sharing your sister with me. I will remember her.


Public exhibition opens this Friday and your presence is welcomed.
WHO: Jen Urso
WHAT: Remarkable Presence
WHERE: Walter Art Gallery
6425 East Thomas, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
WHEN: September 17 with a collective grieving event from 6:30pm-8:30pm
Facebook Invite  Masks required!


Three more collective grieving events will be held across the valley: Sept 25, Oct, 9 and Oct 15.  For information about Jen Urso, her installation and event details/locations visit the website REMARKABLE PRESENCE


Postscript: Jen and I have talked about various rituals connected to death including the writing of the obituary and burial/recomposing rites. I want to make note we also lost my father-in-law to Covid-19. He does not have an obituary. Every family, each person, handles grief in their own way and in their own time. 
The experience of losing numerous family members is difficult, to say the very least. We manage because we know we are not alone. Across the planet, people’s lives are forever changed because of this pandemic.
#yourremarkablepresence #wemissyou 

©2021 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY MONICA AISSA MARTINEZ

ted kennedy

Several years ago I took an evening Mexican art history course at Phoenix College.  The class was mostly filled with 20 something year old college students, except for Kevin, who was older and wiser.

Kevin stood out not only because he was mature in this young classroom but he was impeccably dressed, always came to class in a beautiful suit, a great tie, and polished shoes. FYI…not the norm…in an art dept. He communicated beautifully.  He was intelligent, thoughtful and kind. I think about him today because in his younger years, he knew and had worked for the Kennedy’s.  In conversation he talked about John, Robert and Ted. Their influence on him was clear.

Kevin met with an untimely death a few years ago.  He was a public servant in that he worked for the city of Phoenix, yes.  But he was also a public servant in that he was clearly a mindful human being, present to serve.  The classroom was filled with students who had families and held full time jobs. One young single mother who sat behind us worked the night shift at Motorola. I learned thru Kevin that she had a daughter. He took the time to connect with her most every class. She was often tired and would forgot her pen, he always had extra pens for her.  She had the sniffles or a cough and he had a cough drop or a Kleenex to hand her.

Kevin loaned me his brand new copy of a, at the time newly released, biography about Diego Rivera. He told me to take my time with it and enjoy it. He regularly brought me the art section of the New York Times. I was grateful no doubt, but I used to tease him…What are you, the nice guy of Phoenix?!
He was a professional business man with a kind spirit very much influenced by the Kennedy’s. He explained to me that life is tough for some people and one should, if one could, be supportive and willing to lend a hand, the smallest gesture to make a persons life a bit more comfortable, is worthwhile.

Today I listen to commentary about Senator Edward Kennedy and his humanity is noted. I know of his efforts towards immigration, as he worked alongside Arizona’s John McCain.  I liked the team. And Kennedy always spoke passionately about health care for all. Both of these issues are sitting on the table today.

Kevin informed me that important people can cross our paths and  influence us in large ways. But he also reminded me that the everyday citizen is important too.  As an artist I think about what I do, and who I do it for, all the time. I don’t know that I make a life more comfortable, it’s possible…but I do my best to expand ones awareness…for what it’s worth.

I always thought of Kevin whenever Ted Kennedy was on T.V. or the radio.  Kevin helped me to see Kennedy as more than a political icon, he made him a human being to me.

To Mr. Ted Kennedy…goodbye.  And to Kevin…thanks for making it clear how we all can and do influence one another. RIP.