Martinez-Cañas brings a sense of her own history and past, as well as a fresh and experimental attitude, to all of her work. Her medium can best be described loosely as "photo-based" in that over the last thirty years she has used virtually every photographic medium in realizing her ideas. Although her work can be technically elaborate, the process never gets in the way of the forcefulness and impact of her imagery. Maria Martinez Cañas was born in 1960 in Havana, Cuba, and because of the revolution her family moved to Puerto Rico when she was an infant. She attended college in the United States, and received a BFA from the Philadelphia College of Art in 1982 and an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1984. Subsequently, she moved to Miami where she lives and works in the Little Havana section.
Since 2005 Canas has worked on several series which are more personal in their exploration of her identity than all of her previous projects. These four projects, grouped together under the title of Tetralogy, were shown in a museum installation in the Freedom Tower, Miami during the winter of 2009/10. Although Tetralogy is comprised of discrete works, her methods have evolved and been shaped by several installation projects done in Miami and New York including installations at Wave Hill, Florida International University and Lehigh University.
Canas' mature work began with the Totem Series, 1990 - 1992, inspired by the Afro-Cuban artist Wifredo Lam and consists of spiky and swirling forms containing images of pre-Colombian sites which are inlaid mosaic-like into biomorphic shapes. Much of her work is carried out in an extremely large scale- up to 6 and 7 feet- echoing the mural traditions of Latin America, and yet they contain minute details and information which she gathers from her external photographing expeditions and brings back to the studio to use as the source material for prints. A collage aesthetic is central to her approach, for example her series Quince Sellos Cubanos (Fifteen Cuban Stamps) 1991-92 was inspired by gift of Cuban stamps given to her by her sister. She selected stamps in which the imagery inspired her own interpretation which again combines her cubist-Latin style with photographic images of Cuban landscape and architecture. Canas' generally works in a serial way, and the scale, technical methods and specific themes change, but is always driven by a spirit of questioning.