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Mapping Sophie

posted Thursday October 27th, 2016


I don’t get out much — the editor’s lament — but this spring I made a point of inviting myself to artist Monica Aissa Martinez’s central Phoenix studio. She graciously agreed. I wanted to see up close how she maps people. It’s pretty literal, this mapping. The artist’s subjects aren’t exactly naked; it’s more of a BodyWorlds experience but so much more. I’d seen images of Martinez’s work — watched it evolve over the years — and I was captivated.

Our work is so different, and yet similar. From the time Sophie was very small, I’ve considered her parts while trying to make sense of the whole of her. On a cellular level, Sophie is different from Ray, Annabelle and me. And likely from you. That third 21st chromosome affects every bit of the matter that makes her — and impacts her from head to toe. In stripping away the skin and mapping what’s underneath, with particular attention to medical traits and conditions — as well as a few spiritual ones — Martinez does what I’ve been doing. Or at least what I’ve been trying to do. She completely kicks my ass on this stuff in the best ways.


I’ve been wanting to write about the experience of visiting Martinez’s studio and what happened next, but for once I’m at a loss for words. She describes her work so much better than I ever could, and it’s all here on her blog. For my part, I’d rather tell you about it through her pictures. But first, I will need to offer some back story. I stopped by her studio in the spring, and Monica and her husband Eddie then came to my book launch. A little while later, she sent me a photo — my book, filled with sticky notes.

Martinez had decided that she wanted to map Sophie. I was thrilled. I stopped by again, this time with Sophie, who was enchanted by Monica and agreed to a photo session. As the summer went on, the artist shared pieces of her work on social media and in blog posts. It’s just gorgeous. One of the images made it onto the cover of the alternative newsweekly in Portland, Oregon, and I hope the work is eventually shown far and wide — it’s a terrific way to introduce the world to a person with Down syndrome, which has been my goal with my own work. Martinez did extensive research into many aspects of Down syndrome — particularly the heart, and the defect Sophie and many others have (complete A/V canal) and also included specific aspects of Sophie, like the space between her first and second toes, her fissured tongue and her love of paint brushes.


As summer ended, Annabelle, Sophie and I visited the studio together, eating pizza with Monica and Eddie (they made sure to have cranberry juice for Sophie, that’s her favorite) as we admired the larger-than-life size piece in person.

As we left, Martinez remarked that she had a few finishing touches to add. But someday soon, if not already, she’ll be completely done with this map of Sophie. I hope you get to see it.


My work is far from over. Every day, the landscape of this life, of this little being, shifts. Capturing it on paper is a challenge and a joy.

Amy’s book, “My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome,” was published by Woodbine House this spring and is available through Amazon and Changing Hands Bookstore. For information about tour dates and other events visit and here’s a book trailer.

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Tags: Filed under: culture, Down syndrome by Amysilverman

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My Heart Can't Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome is available from Amazon and 
Changing Hands Bookstore
. For information about readings and other events, click here.


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