Flocks of birds and lost dogs, the Seri and the pachuco, life and death. These juxtaposing themes weave through Graciela Iturbide’s captivating black and white photographs. The exhibit Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico, featuring the Mexican photographer’s work, opened at the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston) on Saturday and runs until May 12.
The MFA cites the new installation as being the first of Iturbide’s on the East Coast—containing over 125 of her photographs, along with the museum’s 37—an overdue visit for her enthusiasts while providing a welcome introduction to many local art admirers.
Before entering the maze of photographs, Iturbide’s artistic philosophy greets museum-goers on tangerine colored walls: “For me, photography is more real in black and white, because color photography reminds me of Disneyland. There have been great color photographers, but I prefer this reality in black and white.”
The 76-year-old working artist employs photography to deliver insight about the what she sees as both the unique and the contradictory nature of life in Mexico. Her work, House of Death (Mexico City, 1975) portrays a couple walking past a mural of a skeleton dressed as a bride.
The first series of photographs in the exhibit is an unusual yet captivating series on botanical gardens and the significance of the cactus in Mexico. Within the exhibit, the MFA describes the cactus as a “symbol of national unity” while highlighting how Iturbide “views [the cacti] with their unexpected shapes and thorny branches tied with rope or burlap, as sculptures.”
The photographs display the intense care with which the owners treated their plants. Multiple photographs portrayed rows of stuffed newspapers between the cacti and fencing to protect the plants from damage, while others showed makeshift IVs attached to the plants.
Another series focuses on the indigenous Seri people from northwestern Mexico. The photographs were commissioned by the Mexican government as a way to document the Seri. Iturbide went to live alongside them in their homes to gain trust as a photographer.
The subject matter found in the Seri works provides contrast to some of her earlier works, such as Pachuco (Mexico City, 1972). Pachuco refers to a subculture of young, urban Mexican-American men in the 1930s and 1940s, who were known for wearing zoot suits—high waisted suits with wide shoulder pads. One photograph in particular captures the attitude of the men portrayed and the complex dynamics within Mexican and Mexican-American communities.
“I never heard of Graciela before today,” said Ann, a Braintree resident who was visiting the museum. “So I am very glad that the MFA chose to put on this exhibit and introduce her work to those who haven’t had the exposure.”
The museum’s curator of photographs, Kristen Gresh, would be pleased to hear those remarks.
“I am thrilled to present Graciela’s groundbreaking images to our global audiences,” Gresh told the MFA. “[Iturbide’s] work has successfully and beautifully brought to the forefront the many untold stories of Mexican culture and history—from the eyes of an insider.”
While the popular Ansel Adams’ photographs drew large crowds for early on a Saturday morning, Iturbide’s photographs maintained a steady flow of art lovers: some who set out to see her work, and others who pleasantly stumbled upon her more discreet exhibit.
“I just came from the Ansel Adams exhibit downstairs, which was amazing,” said John, a visitor from Maine. “But it is interesting to leave his exhibit, being a very well known artist in the U.S., and be able to contrast his work with Iturbide’s photographs of Mexican life”.
Those in the exhibit took their time at each work, honing in on various details in Iturbide’s works.
“I find the symbols that appear in my photos as they are,” said one of Iturbide’s quotations in the exhibit. “You could say that I see them with my eyes and capture them with my heart.”
Featured Image by Eleanor Grondin / For the Heights