Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Boston, Massachusetts
January 19, 2019 – May 12, 2019
Photos of Mexico from the 1970s to 2005 by Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide bring a documentary impulse in touch with a poetic eye. Her photos are personal, yet immersive in cultures not her own; unafraid of the humorous, the strange, and the symbolic. Commissioned in 1978 by the Ethnographic Archive of the National Indigenous Institute of Mexico to photograph Mexico’s indigenous population, Iturbide traveled with anthropologist Luis Barjau to the Sonoran Desert in northwestern Mexico to live for several months with the Seri Indians. From this early trip comes Iturbide’s best-known photo, Angel Woman / Mujer angel (1979), which depicts a Seri woman carrying a boombox in an otherwise undeveloped desert landscape. Iturbide also traveled to Juchitán, a city in southern Oaxaca, to document the Zapotec people, whose culture reveres women’s independence and power. From this series, her photo of Zobeida Diaz, Our Lady of the Iguanas / Nuestra Señora de las Iguanas (1979), depicts a woman crowned by live iguanas—a surreal, potent portrait, despite the everyday setting as Diaz heads off to market to sell iguanas. Iturbide also documented the “third gender” of Zapotec people, muxes, who are valued within their culture. Her photos are dedicated to the uncanny or unseen elements of urban settings—sex workers, murals, unexpected juxtapositions—and bring to life an intimate, provocative interpretation of Mexico’s many peoples and cultures.
The most recent photos in the show come from Iturbide’s project photographing personal effects from Frida Kahlo’s bathroom at Casa Azul, which had been locked away for fifty years. Iturbide focused “primarily on objects related to Kahlo’s pain—from a box of Demerol, an opioid pain medication, to a prosthetic leg,” and created a self-portrait of her own bare feet in Kahlo’s bathtub. The series attests to Iturbide’s ongoing engagement with personal perspective on experiences outside her own. The exhibition includes interpretation in English and in Spanish and a documentary video of the artist shot at Iturbide’s studio in Mexico City. An illustrated catalogue published by MFA includes more than one hundred reproductions of photographs and essays. On May 5, 2019, Iturbide will participate in a symposium sponsored by the Karsh Center for Photography at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Jenn Shapland is an editor and nonfiction writer living in New Mexico. Her first book, The Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir, will be published in 2020 by Tin House Books. She teaches in the creative writing department at the Institute of American Indian Arts.