The Mora Catlett Family Legacy Lives On

n the November 2011 issue of B.L.A.C., we published a feature story about one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, Elizabeth Catlett, and the branch of her family that graced Detroit with its talent and energy.

Catlett (who was born in 1915), her children and grandchildren continue to share their art with the world. Here's an update on their creative endeavors.

Elizabeth Catlett, 96, a groundbreaking sculpture, printmaker and painter, made Mexico her permanent home in 1947 and became a Mexican citizen in 1962, according to her self-titled biography written by Melanie Anne Herzog. Two of Catlett's three children were born there. She and her late husband, artist Francisco Mora, raised their family in Mexico City. Catlett, who was born and raised in Washington, D.C., has lived Cuernavaca, Mexico, for four decades. She has been an outspoken artist-activist promoting justice and equality for African Americans for most of her life.

Last year, she and her son David completed a 10-foot statue of the late gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, now in New Orleans. In an email to B.L.A.C. dated Oct. 20, 2011, Catlett says, "I have been working on some bronzes, on wood sculpture, some new stone carvings and I'm planning some new drawings and lithographs. Maybe it would be nice to have a show in the Museum of Modern Art."

David Mora Catlett, 60, is Elizabeth Catlett's youngest son. Although he lives in Germany, he spends much of his time in Cuernavaca working with his mother. David says he became her apprentice at age 12, then became her assistant and later her partner. The regularly create works of art together.


Juan Mora Catlett, 62, is Elizabeth Catlett's middle son. He lives in Mexico City where he is a filmmaker and a professor emeritus at Universidad Nacional Autónoma De México. He made a documentary about his parents entitled "Betty y Poncho" in 1998. And he has made two feature films, "Retorno a Aztlán" released in 1991 and "Eréndira la indomable" in 2007, both historical epics about indigenous peoples of Mexico. There was some controversy regarding some of the imagery in Mel Gibson's film "Apocalypto" that appears similar to that in Juan's films.

Francisco Mora Catlett, 64, Elizabeth Catlett's oldest son, lived in Detroit from the mid-1970s until the early 2000s, where he raised four daughters-Crystal, Ife, Nia and Naima. Francisco is an accomplished jazz drummer who now lives in New York. In October 2011, he recorded a new album with his Afro Horn band-a group of musicians that includes three saxophone players from New York. That band originated with other musicians in Detroit in the 1980s. Listen to some of Francisco Mora Catlett's music.

Ife Sanchez Mora is a rock genre singer and songwriter now based in New York. She recalls getting her first piano lesson from the late, great jazz musician Sun Ra, which whom her father toured. At one point, Ife had her own all-women rock band, Sweetie. She is now a solo artist.

Nia Mora, 27, is an award-winning photographer who studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York. She is sailing from Hawaii to Australia, documenting the trip through photos. Like her twin sister Naima, she has also worked as a model.

Naima Mora, 27, who was a member of the Dance Theatre of Harlem's B company, is the season four winner of "America's Next Top Model." She continues to work as a model, but has also turned her attention to music. Now based in Los Angeles, she is the co-founder of a rock band called Galaxy of Tar.

Danys "La Mora" Pérez, Francisco's current wife, is a native of Santiago de Cuba. She is the founder and artistic director of Oyu Oro Afro-Cuban Experimental Dance Ensemble in New York. A member of Cuba's national folkloric ballet company for nearly two decades, she now teaches Afro-Cuban dance classes at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Ailey Extension program. Danys taught at Wayne State University and performed with Francisco at the grand opening of the current location of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.

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