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Graciela Iturbide's Captivating Mexico

Graciela Iturbide’s Captivating Mexico

The exhibition Cuando Habla La Luz at Monterrey’s Museum of Mexican History, a retrospective of the work of Mexican artist Graciela Iturbide, highlights the themes that have emerged consistently in her photography over the years.

Carnaval, Tlaxcala, 1974 © Graciela Iturbide. Courtesy of Fomento Cultural Banamex, A.C.

A former student of Manuel Alvarez Bravo, who encouraged his young film student to switch her major to photography, Iturbide has often been associated with the Latin American movement of magical realism. However, what stands out in Cuando Habla la Luz, and especially when one discovers (or rediscovers) Iturbide’s photographs through the prism of contemporary imagination—anchored in an era that is sometimes described as the “Post #MeToo era,” populated by feminist revolts and once oppressed voices that are beginning to rise up—are its women.

The curator of the show, Juan Rafael Coronel Rivera, opted not to organize the exhibition chronologically, but instead to arrange it around the visual motifs consistently found throughout Iturbide’s work. Whether the photos are assembled around the theme of self-portraits, geometrical patterns, or even birds, the figures of women are those that punctuate the entire body of work and emerge out of it with intensity.

Nuestra señora de las iguanas, Juchitán, Oaxaca, 1979 © Graciela Iturbide. Courtesy of Fomento Cultural Banamex, A.C.

A headdress made of iguanas and a silver fish

And thus, out of her carefully textured blacks and whites emerges a woman wearing a colony of iguanas on her head and another featuring long ebony hair in which a huge ivory comb has been planted, while yet another stands confidently in the middle of a vast desert expanse. And when she does her self-portrait, Iturbide injects into it that dose of surrealism so unique to her, via the detail of a silver fish covering her mouth. That image is also steeped in the same confidence, the same serene and self-assured gaze that characterizes many of her portraits.

Perhaps the female figure in the exhibit that gives off the greatest feeling of power and freedom is the one found in one of the artist’s best known photographs, Mujer ángel, in which a long-haired woman with loosely fitting clothes stands facing the immensity of nature with her back to us. Thanks to both the sense of movement captured in her body and the radio she holds in her hand, she oozes tremendous strength and freedom.

The independence, freedom and creativity made possible by new ways of approaching everyday objects or natural elements make the women photographed by Graciela Iturbide powerful, creative figures deeply connected to the natural world around them. They can be found throughout her entire body of work and emerge as the true guiding motif in the Mexican photographer’s artistic process.

La niña del peine, Juchitán, Oaxaca, 1979 © Graciela Iturbide. Courtesy of Fomento Cultural Banamex, A.C.

Mujer Ángel, Desierto de Sonora, 1979 © Graciela Iturbide. Courtesy of Fomento Cultural Banamex, A.C.

Autorretrato, Guanajuato, Guanajuato, 1996 © Graciela Iturbide. Courtesy of Fomento Cultural Banamex, A.C.

By Elsa Leydier

Graciela Iturbide : Cuando Habla La Luz

Until April 12, 2020

Musée d’Histoire Mexicaine, Dr José Ma. Coss 445, Centro, 64000 Monterrey, N.L., Mexico 

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