Graciela Iturbide and Ispiritu de Mexico: Critical Review, May 2001
Artist’s Lecture Review, Spokane, Washington.
Graciela Iturbide is notably one of the finest black and white documentary photographers working today. She has absolute control over her media, and she delivers compositionally sound, exquisite displays of humanity and cultural awareness. I found her perseverance to preserve cultural identity both amazing and commendable. Some of my favorite works that she presented were very simplified forms. One specific image pictured a goat that wasn’t slaughtered. The delicate shift in value and the sweet wreath of flowers that crowned the goat gave a sense of cultural ritual and soft-heartedness that makes community attractive. The formal elements of this particular piece struck me as stable and calming. The offset of a dark mass in the upper right corner (I believe they were shoes) balanced perfectly the stark white (virginity) of the spared goat.
I felt that Iturbide’s work was clear and sensitive, offering images layered with a multitude of ideas. I found her to be politically sensitive and aggressive – an attribute in artists that I very much enjoy. Her feministic views were highly noted with the first set of slides she presented. These captured the essence of a true matriarchal society. I found that her eye caught the strength and security of the women who ran what seemed to be a very serene and nurturing environment. The eccentric characters of this society, and the loving acceptance of them, only made the community as a whole, even more desirable.
Later, she spoke of the Virgin Ritual, wherein a cultural requirement enables the family to inspect the virgin; she reminded me that our cultures are not so distant, only packaged differently. She told a story that smart couples would bring a satchel of chicken’s blood in the event that the Virgin was found to not be “pure,” and it reminded me that as Americans of the United States, we hold many of the same values other cultures hold, only ours are blanketed by commercialism. We want cleanliness. We want purity. And sometimes we have to use tricks to convey we have these things.
Also, she spoke of the indigenous tribe of the Saris which made me painfully aware of the United States’ influence of commercialism on communities with actual culture, or heritage. Only eight years ago, these people lived a life not tainted with corporate commercialism, and now they wear tuxedos and carry radios.
It’s the ultimate in cultural stratification. She conjured images of third-world children wearing Nike T-shirts. Nomads in traditional dress with boomboxes. Children celebrating pointless gadgets in the last simple world. It made me embarrassed to be a part of my own commercialized community. I believe that Iturbide’s work will live a long career as cultural reference. The technical side of her work only increases the pleasure of already being intrigued by the subject matter.
I found the work that I saw at Lorinda Knight’s exhibit, Ispiritu de Mexico, very similar, and most likely very influenced by Iturbide’s (or her mentor, Manuel Alvarez Bravo’s) work – most notably the work by Carlos Contreras and Yolanda Andrade. I thought that most of the exhibit was stunning, sensitive and structured.
The theme of cultural identity within the group of artists was very apparent. Contreras’ work gave me the same feeling of slaughterhouse routine as did Iturbide; though somewhat painful to visualize, the cultural identity of a community relies on its actualization. The image of a man napping amongst dead animals expresses the customary practice of their community. The slaughtered goats piled upon each other raises metaphors to our own mortality.
Andrade’s work expressed a sometimes quirky side of a foreign culture. She identifies the eccentrics and the deeply spiritual with the same sensitivities as she would any object. She relates a humanity within her culture, which in turn relates back to our own cultures – what we have and what we do not have. I was most moved by the image of the piece, Man On Pilgrimage. This spiritual identity barely exists in the United States. When I saw Pilgrimage, I realized that we often times confuse religion with spirituality, and the depth of true dedication to whatever one calls God is more powerful than most of us could ever hope to experience.
Contrary to the aforementioned, I found Gilberto Chen’s work both serious and playful. I think that his work carries with it a spontaneity that requires careful observation. The spray painted graffiti behind the basketball game reminds us of inner city life – one that carries with it the dangers of human contact, even when one is passing time by game. I believe Mom’s Kids to be a reminder to keep enjoying friendships and challenges. He reiterates the simplicities of life. It’s this documentation of every day life that reminds us of our own humanity.
I found both events interesting and enriching. I feel fortunate to have been exposed to such rich images of cultural identity, humanity and purity.