Museum  January 22, 2019  Chandra Noyes

Photographer Graciela Iturbide Documents a Changing Mexico

© Graciela Iturbide, Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Graciela Iturbide, Chickens / Los pollos, Juchitán, México, 1979. Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Marcuse Pfeifer 1990.119.35

© Graciela Iturbide, Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Graciela Iturbide, Our Lady of the Iguanas, Juchitán, México / Nuestra Señora de las Iguanas, 1979. Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser.

Graciela Iturbide, one of the most prolific and insightful documenters of life and culture in Mexico, is sharing her vision of a complex nation at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston (MFA Boston). Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico features nearly 140 photographs and is the first major East Coast presentation of the artist’s work. The exhibition encompasses almost five decades of a career spent shedding light on the diverse cultures of Mexico. 

Since 1969, Iturbide (born 1942) has captured the nuances of a changing of Mexico. Iturbide describes her methods as intuitive, and through her unconscious seeing and documenting, is able to capture moments that are both intimate and profound, emblematic of the dual natures of Mexico. A culture that is deeply traditional while rapidly growing and changing emerges, as evidenced by the visual and cultural themes that are present in Iturbide’s photographs. Death is a recurring theme, and one that has shaped Iturbide’s career, since the loss of her young daughter in 1970 led the artist to pursue photography. She also identifies healing and as a major theme, and birds, symbols of freedom and change, frequently appear.

Graciela Iturbide, Birds on the Post, Highway / Pájaros en el poste, Carretera, Guanajuato, México, 1990
© Graciela Iturbide, Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Graciela Iturbide, Birds on the Post, Highway / Pájaros en el poste, Carretera, Guanajuato, México, 1990. Museum purchase with funds donated by John and Cynthia Reed, Charles H. Bayley Picture and Painting Fund, Barbara M. Marshall Fund, Lucy Dalbiac Luard Fund, Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Fund for Photography, Francis Welch Fund, and Jane M. Rabb Fund for Film and Photography.

Graciela Iturbide, Angel Woman, Sonora Desert / Mujer Ángel, Desierto de Sonora México, 1979
© Graciela Iturbide, Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Graciela Iturbide, Angel Woman, Sonora Desert / Mujer Ángel, Desierto de Sonora México, 1979. Elizabeth and Michael Marcus.

Graciela Iturbide, Merry-Go-Round / Volantín, San Martin Tilcajete, Oaxaca, México, 1976
© Graciela Iturbide, Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Graciela Iturbide, Merry-Go-Round / Volantín, San Martin Tilcajete, Oaxaca, México, 1976. Museum purchase with funds donated by John and Cynthia Reed, Charles H. Bayley Picture and Painting Fund, Barbara M. Marshall Fund, Lucy Dalbiac Luard Fund, Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Fund for Photography, Francis Welch Fund, and Jane M. Rabb Fund for Film and Photography.

Graciela Iturbide, Fallen from Heaven / Cayó del Cielo, Chalma, México, 1989
© Graciela Iturbide, Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Graciela Iturbide, Fallen from Heaven / Cayó del Cielo, Chalma, México, 1989. Museum purchase with funds donated by John and Cynthia Reed, Charles H. Bayley Picture and Painting Fund, Barbara M. Marshall Fund, Lucy Dalbiac Luard Fund, Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Fund for Photography, Francis Welch Fund, and Jane M. Rabb Fund for Film and Photography.

Graciela Iturbide, Chalma, 1974
© Graciela Iturbide, Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Graciela Iturbide, Chalma, 1974. Museum purchase with funds donated by John and Cynthia Reed, Charles H. Bayley Picture and Painting Fund, Barbara M. Marshall Fund, Lucy Dalbiac Luard Fund, Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Fund for Photography, Francis Welch Fund, and Jane M. Rabb Fund for Film and Photography.

Working almost exclusively in black and white, which she describes as “more real” than color images, her elegant compositions make the common awe-inspiring. From festivals and celebrations to the exploited labor of the working class, Iturbide’s work brings attention to the forgotten elements and contradictions of Mexican culture. On numerous occasions, Iturbide has immersed herself in native populations to capture their unique traditions. One of her earliest projects focused on documenting the Seri Indian population that live in the Sonoran Desert along the Mexico/Arizona border. She also devoted nearly a decade to photographing the Juchitán people, part of the Zapotec culture of Oaxaca, Mexico, a series of images that have become iconic and brought new attention to this distinctive matriarchal society. No matter their subject, fleeting moments take on a timeless quality through Iturbide's lens, poetic expressions of life and culture brought together in an image.

© Graciela Iturbide, Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Graciela Iturbide, Frida’s Bathroom, Coyoacán, Mexico City / El Baño de Frida, Coyoacán, Ciudad de México, 2006. Museum purchase with funds donated by John and Cynthia Reed, Charles H. Bayley Picture and Painting Fund, Barbara M. Marshall Fund, Lucy Dalbiac Luard Fund, Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Fund for Photography, Francis Welch Fund, and Jane M. Rabb Fund for Film and Photography.

Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico includes works loaned from around the world, 35 photographs purchased by the MFA Boston and two donated by Iturbide. The show is on view at the MFA Boston through May 12, 2019, and is accompanied by a catalogue and symposium featuring the artist on May 5.

About the Author

Chandra Noyes

Chandra Noyes is Managing Editor for Art & Object.

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