In June 2018, when the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston acquired 37 vintage prints by the award-winning photographer Graciela Iturbide, the museum director announced, “We have great conviction that her work should be seen in the context of other influential artists such as Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Man Ray and Margaret Bourke-White.” Through loans from institutions in the U.S. and Mexico, the Museum of Fine Arts has gathered 125 photographs from throughout Iturbide’s nearly 50-year career for “Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico,” the first major show of her work on the East Coast in decades. Though Iturbide has pursued projects in North and South America, Europe and Asia, this new exhibition focuses on how she has examined her own country’s culture. Informed by documentary and fine-art photographers she loves, her vision is also uniquely personal and poetic.
Born in Mexico City in 1942, Iturbide studied film and photography, and took a class with Manuel Alvarez Bravo, who asked her to assist him from 1970 to 1971. Iturbide then traveled on her own, making photos in Cuba, Panama and elsewhere. In 1978, the Ethnographic Archive of the National Indigenous Institute of Mexico commissioned her to document some of Mexico’s indigenous cultures. Ethnographic photography is often associated with the objectification of exotic people. But during the weeks she spent living with and photographing the Seri, a small community of former nomads in the Sonoran Desert, Iturbide made graphically striking, often admiring photos of women who allowed her to join them in their daily work. In the image Iturbide calls “Angel Woman,” she shows a woman from behind, her long skirt trailing across the rocky terrain and her arms out to her sides as if she were about to take flight across the desert. In one hand, she lugs a tape recorder she got in a trade with American tourists.
Iturbide went on to spend time with people in the Juchitán district in Oaxaca, where women play a central role in festivals and rites of passage. In the 1990s, Iturbide photographed a goat-slaughtering ritual in the Mixteca region of Oaxaca, showing how the community has imbued goats, a valued commodity, with symbolism echoing Biblical stories. More recent work in the exhibition includes a series on Mexico’s flora and fauna, and still lifes of objects left in artist Frida Kahlo’s bathroom, which her partner, Diego Rivera, insisted remain locked for years after her death. By combining each of Iturbide’s series, “Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico” presents a portrait both of an artist, and of the rich and varied culture that has ignited her imagination.
—Holly Stuart Hughes
“Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico”
Through May 19
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston