Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico Brings Artist’s Personal Collection to NMWA

Graciela Iturbide at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, January 10, 2019; Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

“The camera changes me. Seeing through my camera, I am in another world,” says Graciela Iturbides, one of the greatest contemporary photographers in Latin America.  Visitors to Graciela Iturbides Mexico, her most extensive United States exhibition in more than two decadeswill be transported as well.

Showcasing the rich and complex culture of her native Mexico, the exhibit of 140 personal black-and-white gelatin silver prints is making a stop (on a limited three-venue tour) at the National Museum for Women in the Arts. On view are a mix of portrayals of indigenous and urban women, rituals and symbolism in nature, and specific commissions.

Graciela Iturbides Mexico is organized into nine sections: Early Work, Juchitán (home to the Zapotec people), Seri (formerly nomadic fisherfolk), La Mixteca (Oaxacan goat slaughter ritual), Fiestas, Death, Birds, Botanical Garden, and lastly, Frida Khalo’s Bathroom.

Graciela Iturbide, Nuestra Señora de las Iguanas (Our Lady of the Iguanas), Juchitán, 1979; Gelatin silver print, 10 x 8 in.; Collection of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser; © Graciela Iturbide; Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Many of the pieces on view are owned by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, but others are collected from the artist’s personal files.

A combination of the sacred and secular, Iturbides’ photographs are filled with the unexpected and sometimes unreal. Careful study of her prints shows her penchant for geometry and her attraction to visual surprises.

“Your obsessions follow you everywhere,” she says.

“Photography for me is a ritual. To go out with the camera, to observe, to photograph the most mythological aspects of people. Then go into the darkness, to develop, to select the most symbolic images.”

These images of “oft-neglected subjects” prove Iturbides’ empathetic approach to photography, which allows her to connect with others and snap never-before-captured imagery.  For example, she was the only photographer to ever record the elaborate ritual known as el Rapto (the abduction), which is shown in Graciela Iturbides Mexico.  And she was commissioned to photograph items left in Frida Khalo’s bathroom when her home was first re-opened years after her death.

Graciela Iturbide, El Baño de Frida, Coyoacán, Ciudad de México (Frida’s Bathroom, Coyoacán, Mexico City), 2005; Gelatin silver print, 14 ½ x 14 ¼ in.; Courtesy of the artist; © Graciela Iturbide

“I was entering a prohibited space, frozen in time.  She had a lot of pain, but kept painting.  Painting was her therapy.  I feel like I got to know her better.”

ProTip: To get to know Graciela, her life, and her work better, don’t miss the documentary video of the artist shot at Iturbide’s studio in Mexico City.

Graciela Iturbides Mexico is on view at the National Museum for Women in the Arts through May 25, 2020. Iturbides will return to accept NMWA’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in the Arts at the museum’s Gala event on April 17, 2020.

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