Director’s Desk: Fresh Talks Bridge Art & Science

All of us at the National Museum of Women in the Arts hope you are safe and well. This week I want to share inspiring talks by the talented, passionate speakers from our Fresh Talk series, the signature program of our Women, Arts, and Social Change public programs initiative. These dynamic conversations provide a platform for women to share creative ideas and solutions that address today’s social issues. Over the past five seasons, we have brought prominent women in the arts together with individuals in other fields for 25 creative conversations on gender, equity, art, the environment, identity, social and economic opportunity, and more. All Fresh Talks are recorded so that you can enjoy them at your leisure.

A blonde woman stands at the podium in NMWA's performance hall, speaking in front of a packed audience. On the pull-down screen to her left, a slide with the word "MUTUALISM" in all caps in displayed.

Fresh Talk speaker Natalie Jerejimenko speaks about the mutualistic relationship between humans and the natural world.

At this moment, I’m reflecting on talks that explore the intersection of art, science, and the environment. In March 2016, Natalie Jeremijenko, an artist, engineer, and program director of the Environmental Health Clinic at New York University, helped us consider the question, “Can an artist use science and technology to heal the environment?” Jeremijenko bridges art and science by “prescribing” creative health solutions for the environment, working to redesign our relationship to Earth’s natural systems.

In May 2017, we convened a group of women representing environmental and arts-based organizations to answer the question, “How can the arts inspire environmental advocacy?” Jacqui Patterson, director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program, emphasized the power of photography and video in telling the stories of vulnerable communities living in the shadows of oil refineries, drinking contaminated water, and navigating food deserts. Miranda Massie, director of the Climate Museum, discussed how museums can use the power of art to evoke emotions, engage new audiences, and reframe the conversation about climate change to focus on hope.

Most recently, in September 2019, we hosted iconic feminist artist Judy Chicago and renowned philosopher and professor Martha C. Nussbaum on the occasion of Chicago’s newest exhibition, The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction. In a wide-ranging conversation, they discussed the emotional intensity of Chicago’s artistic contemplation of her own death—and the deaths of entire animal and plant species at the hands of humans. Chicago reflected on people’s disregard for the complexity of Earth’s ecosystems and “lack of awareness about the consequences of human actions in terms of disrupting this miracle of life.”

Five diverse women pose happily in NMWA's performance hall, in front of a projected slide that says "How can the arts inspire environmental advocacy?" They smile wide, one woman points happily at the camera, and another throws up a peace sign.

Fresh Talk moderator Kari Fulton (far left) and speakers Laura Turner Seydel, Miranda Massie, Jacqui Patterson, and Amy Lipton pose after their grounding, hopeful talk about the arts and environmental advocacy.

All of these Fresh Talks demonstrate how artists can be agents of conscience in the world. During this time at home, I hope that you will find ways to immerse yourself in the arts and their ability to address the current issues we face. Please add your voices via social media using #FreshTalk4Change and tagging @WomenInTheArts. We look forward to gathering with you at the museum again, one day soon, where we can experience the power of the arts together.

—Susan Fisher Sterling is the Alice West Director of the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Beyond Documentation: Graciela Iturbide and the Seri

One of the most influential contemporary photographers of Latin America, Graciela Iturbide has produced majestic and powerful images of her native Mexico for the past 50 years. Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico is the artist’s most extensive U.S. exhibition in more than two decades, comprising 140 black-and-white prints that reveal the artist’s own journey to understand her homeland and the world.

A black and white photo of a woman in traditional Seri dress walking down a mountainside to the empty desert plain holding a boom-box.

Graciela Iturbide, Mujer Ángel (Angel Woman), Sonoran Desert, 1979; Gelatin silver print, 13 x 18 ⅜ in.; Collection of Elizabeth and Michael Marcus; © Graciela Iturbide; Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The Seri are an indigenous group that lives in the Sonoran Desert of northwestern Mexico, along the Gulf of California near the U.S.–Mexico border. In 1979, with anthropologist Luis Barjau, Graciela Iturbide (b. 1942) stayed with the Seri community for more than two months, recording their lives with her camera—particularly their forced adaptation to modern life, which began in the 1940s.

Commissioned by the Mexican government, the project was initially designed to document the once-nomadic indigenous population. Yet Iturbide’s works extend beyond documentation: embracing an empathetic approach to photography, she seeks to see and learn through her subjects’ eyes. “I lived with them in their homes, so they would see me always with my camera and know that I am a photographer. In this way, we were able to become partners,” Iturbide said.

Iturbide’s time with the Seri culminated in a book, Los que viven en la arena (Those Who Live in the Sand). According to the artist, she had selected the photographs and the book was all laid out when fellow photographer and book editor Pablo Ortiz Monasterio noticed on her contact sheets the image of an ethereal woman seeming to fall into infinite space. This “discovery” would become one of Iturbide’s most famous photographs, Mujer ángel (Angel Woman) (1979).

This photograph presents a seemingly contradictory image. A woman in traditional Seri dress walks down to the empty desert plain holding her boom-box—a reminder of the technological and material influence of the United States on her indigenous culture. The title transforms the figure into a celestial being: we cannot see her face, and she appears to be floating into another realm, arms spread and hair blowing in the wind.

Iturbide_Angelita Sonoran Desert

Graciela Iturbide, Angelita, Sonoran Desert, 1979; Gelatin silver print, 8 ⅛ x 12 ⅛ in.; Courtesy of the artist; © Graciela Iturbide; Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Iturbide_Self Portrait as Seri

Graciela Iturbide, Autorretrato como Seri (Self-Portrait as Seri), Sonoran Desert, 1979; Gelatin silver print, 6 ¾ x 6 ¾ in.; Courtesy of the artist; © Graciela Iturbide; Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Other photographs highlight daily life, the landscape, and Seri customs. In Saguaro, Sonoran Desert (1979), a large cactus becomes a pedestal for a flock of black crows; in the distance, the dry desert landscape unfolds. With no people in the photo, and no markers of the encroachment of the modern world, viewers may be left to consider this harsh climate that the Seri people call home and nature’s dominance.

In both Angelita (1979) and Autoretrato como Seri (Self-Portrait as Seri) (1979), Iturbide shows traditional Seri face painting—on both a Seri woman and herself, an outsider. This was a sign of Iturbide’s acceptance into the community, as the Seri women asked to paint her face as they did their own. Iturbide does not exoticize or mimic the practice. Instead, this self-portrait represents her own self-interrogation and integration with her role as a photographer in the indigenous community.

*Unless otherwise noted, information is adapted from Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico: Photographs, by Kristen Gresh, with an essay by Guillermo Sheridan.

Art Fix Friday: April 3, 2020

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, Anonymous Was a Woman, in partnership with the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), will distribute emergency grants totaling $250,000 to at least 100 woman-identifying artists over 40 years old. The application will go live on Monday, April 6, and close on Wednesday, April 8.

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The grants—up to $2,500 apiece—aim to assist artists who are experiencing financial hardship as a result of COVID-19 and the subsequent economic shock. “This fund will not only provide much needed financial support for artists, but…it will be an incredible source of hope,” said NYFA Executive Director Michael Royce.

Front-Page Femmes

The Helen Frankenthaler Foundation will offer $5 million in COVID-19 relief funding for artists over the next three years.

Artforum publishes artist Whitney Claflin’s first-person account of surviving an economic shock.

The Chicago Tribune interviews Ling Ma, author of the critically acclaimed zombie pandemic novel Severance, who has won the 2020 Whiting Award for fiction.

As she prepares to close her 32-year-old gallery dedicated to women artists, veteran art dealer Barbara Gross reflects on how the market has, and hasn’t, changed.

Frieze profiles artist Pati Hill, whose unique artistic practice employs the use of a photocopier.

The New Yorker profiles the late cartoonist Tove Jansson, who produced ­paintings, novels, children’s books, and more—best known as the creator of Moomins.

Hyperallergic profiles Akiko Stehrenberger, known for her film posters, including Portrait of a Lady on Fire, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, and Her.

Akiko Stehrenberger’s posters for Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) and Colossal (2017)

Suellen Rocca, a leading Chicago Imagist whose hieroglyphic paintings and drawings addressed themes of domesticity, sexuality, and consumer and popular culture, has died at age 76.

Artnet’s podcast, The Art Angle, delves into the unbelievable true story of mystical painter Agnes Pelton.

Amarie Gibson of Arts.Black meditates on themes of resistance and care in Ja’tovia Gary’s work.

The New Yorker profiles poet Carolyn Forché and revisits her politically and emotionally charged prose.

Artnet profiles Heather Phillipson, whose whipped cream sculpture was scheduled to be unveiled this week in London on Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth.­­­

Shows We Want To See—Online Edition

The Broad Museum is bringing Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room—The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away to devices everywhere via Instagram TV. The “Infinite Drone” series pairs footage of Kusama’s starry universe with musical selections by Los Angeles-based sound artists and musicians. The first video features the sounds of artist and composer Geneva Skeen.

Anna Breit, Untitled, from the series »Girls«, 2018; OstLicht Gallery for Photography

Artsy features a virtual look at five gallery exhibitions featuring emerging artists. This week includes a selection of works by artists from Miami to Vienna, including Sara Bichao, Anna Breit and Luisa Hübner, Lucia Hierro, and Petra Cortright.

—Alexa Kasner is the spring 2020 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts

NMWA @ Home: Creative Coping with Lynora Williams and Adrienne Poon

A photograph of an in-progress, hand-stitched quilt, made from bright, vibrant colors including yellow, green, blue, pink, and red. Some squares appear tie-dyed, others are solid.

Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center Director Lynora Williams’s in-progress quilt; Photo by Lynora Williams

As NMWA remains temporarily closed due to COVID-19, along with other museums and cultural institutions around the world, we’ve been diligently working to bring the museum to you at home. In this series, we’ll check in with NMWA staff in their own homes for a personal look at the creative ways they’re staying connected, inspired, and grounded.

Do you have extra suggestions or recommendations for us? Let us know in the comments below or share on social media @WomenInTheArts!

Lynora Williams, director, Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center

Reading: Susan Orlean’s The Library Book, about the destruction of the Los Angeles Public Library by fire. It’s not exactly cheerful reading, but I’ve been trying to get to it for a while. I’m also enjoying Melanie Falick’s Making a Life: Working by Hand and Discovering the Life You are Meant to Live—for inspiration, but mostly for the pictures! On my current reading list are also Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire and poet Dunya Mikhail’s In Her Feminine Sign. Can you tell I have a short attention span?

Making: I am hand-stitching a small quilt with hand-dyed fabrics—very meditative.

Watching: I’m occasionally watching Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Crown, and old sports events, like the 2006 Women’s NCAA Basketball Championship, a thriller won by (spoiler alert) the Maryland Terps.

Extra Inspiration: I am finding inspiration in other strong women. Right now I have what my colleague Emily Shaw calls a “social justice crush” on Ugandan feminist activist Stella Nyanzi, who was released from prison last month. She is mind-blowingly fierce.


Adrienne Poon, digital content coordinator

Grounding: On my last day before our temporary closure, I spent time with Spiritualist (1973) by Helen Frankenthaler. I stood for about 15 minutes, just looking and feeling an overwhelming sense of calm and awe. I don’t normally favor abstract expressionist works, so this experience was a complete surprise and delight! That memory—of how art can make you feel, how art can soothe, and how beautiful art can be—has been grounding for me even now that I’m not able to see it in person.

Helen Frankenthaler, Spiritualist, 1973, Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 60 in., Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Helen Frankenthaler, Spiritualist, 1973; Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 60 x 1 1/4 in.; NMWA, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; © 2012 Estate of Helen Frankenthaler / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Reading: I love reading books written by former Fresh Talk speakers or featured in our library. They make me feel connected to a greater community of women artists and creators around the world. My favorites include The Poet X by Fresh Talk speaker Elizabeth Acevedo, and I Was Their American Dream by Malaka Gharib and Cook Korean! by Robin Ha, which were featured in our Library and Research Center’s recent exhibition DMV Color.

Connecting: I’ve also been turning to my friends and family for inspiration. This situation has spurred many of us to chat more regularly, which has been great. Additionally, I’ve always admired my friends who create things, and I’ve been even more intently following their creations—illustrated comic diaries, genre-bending music, textile weaving, watercolor painting, cardigan knitting, video producing, bread baking, and more. It has been so rewarding. I love cheering on my friends from afar.

5 Fast Facts about #5WomenArtists Changing the World: Mickalene Thomas

Artist Mickalene Thomas (b. 1971) creates paintings, photography, installations, and multimedia and video works that draw from art history, pop art, and visual culture. Her vibrant works have established a contemporary vision of female sexuality, beauty, race, and power, while centering queer identity. As a queer black woman, Thomas represents other black women in a way that celebrates their agency and erotic beauty.­

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Share your favorite women artists working for LGBTQ rights on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook using the hashtag #5WomenArtists and tagging @WomenInTheArts.

1. A Seat at the Table

Thomas cites a 1994 trip to the Portland Art Museum as the moment she knew she wanted to be an artist. “I saw Carrie Mae Weems’s work—specifically ‘The Kitchen Table’ series…it was transformative. Not only to me as a young black girl from Camden, New Jersey, standing in a museum in Portland, Oregon, but as a queer woman, as a young artist, seeing those works—they changed my life and allowed me to really consider being an artist.”

2. The Peacock in the Room

Thomas’s work frequently engages with race, gender, and representation through glitter, rhinestones, bright colors, fashion, and lively patterns. About this approach Thomas says, “The sparkles…are flamboyant work. It’s like the peacock in the room; it entices people to engage with the beauty…it draws people in, and then you encourage people to explore the themes on a deeper level.”

3. 21st Century Muse

In 2018, Harper’s Bazaar commissioned Thomas to create a series of images of her partner and muse, Racquel Chevremont, an art adviser and former model who collaborates frequently with Thomas. Curator Kimberly Drew declared the images “an ode to black love, but also a siren’s call for a more diverse future—one in which queer, black, and brown people can imagine the radical possibilities of embracing their own beauty and agency to tell their own stories.”

A front and back view of a pocket mirror by Mickalene Thomas that contain two photos of beautiful black women posed in seventies looking fashion with a wood paneled background.

Mickalene Thomas, Pocket mirror (front and back), 2016 (based on Mickalene Thomas, Din Facing Forward (left) and Qusuquzah Standing Sideways (right), 2012); Brushed bronze with epoxy-coated artwork, 2 5/8 in. diameter; Produced by Third Drawer Down; NMWA, Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in honor of NMWA Chief Curator Kathryn Wat; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

4. Dare to Dream

Thomas created a poster for the “Speak Up” fundraiser for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) at Art Basel Miami in 2017. The poster was available for purchase at a pop-up shop and featured the phrase “Dare to Dream” over a photo of two women, including Chevremont, seemingly about to kiss. In a speech at the event, Howard Simon, ACLU Florida executive director, said, “Think about the shifts in the LGBTQ movement…one of the major things that moved that needle was the art community.”

5. Mic Drop

When asked about her role in conversations about race, gender, identity, and power, Thomas said, “As a black female queer artist, the fierce act of creating the work that I make is a courageous act unto itself. My responsibility as an artist is to continue to persevere and make the work, and that enacts change. My work celebrates and represents all types of powerful beautiful black women, period.”

—Alexa Kasner is the spring 2020 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts; Alicia Gregory is the assistant editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: March 27, 2020

Artsy profiles Williabell Clayton and Dr. Constance Clayton, a mother-daughter duo who has collected a trove of African American art; the pair spent 50 years buying works by Black artists from auctions, galleries, and thrift shops.

A black and white photograph of an older woman sitting down and staring up at, seemingly, her daughter. They lock hands and the daughter has her other hand on the mother's shoulder.

Portrait of Dr. Constance Clayton and her mother Williabell Clayton; Courtesy of Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia

Williabell passed away in 2004, and Constance has continued their legacy, establishing committees and curatorial fellowships aimed at promoting African American artists and young professionals of color pursuing museum roles—in addition to gifting artworks to public institutions. “[She’s] filling gaps in mainstream museum collections that are now looking to add diversity,” said Tammi Lawson, a curator at the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Front-Page Femmes

Artforum reports on the permanent closure of Munich’s Barbara Gross Galerie in May; over the past three decades, Gross championed female artists including Silvia Bächli, Miriam Cahn, and VALIE EXPORT.

Artnet interviews doctor and artist Sharon Madanes about how her experiences with art and medicine inform one another.

The New Yorker reviews Emily St. John Mandel’s new novel The Glass Motel, declaring it “a profound study on responsibility in the times of crisis.”

Paper interviews Mimi Zhu, a Chinese Australian writer and artist whose Instagram text was reposted by Britney Spears. Zhu describes her writing as a way to heal from trauma, and says her goal is “centering in on the ethic of love, and the practice of love, and in creating better worlds for all of us.”

An Instagram post featuring a bright orange background and black text that says: "During this time of isolation, we need connection now more than ever. Call your loved ones, write virtual love letters. Technologies like virtual communication, streaming and broadcasting are part of our community collaboration. We will learn to kiss and hold each other through the waves of the web. We wil feed each other, re-distribute wealth, strike. We will understand our own importance from the places we must stay. Communion moves beyond walls. We can still be together." It is signed "Mimi Zhu."

Artist Mimi Zhu’s Instagram post advocating for connection and compassion

Juxtapoz interviews artist Erin M. Riley about her self-care practices during quarantine.

Frieze profiles painter Jutta Koether, the German artist who turned her name into a transitive verb for her latest exhibition.

Artsy profiles seven female photographers redefining Surrealism in contemporary art.

Maria Fernanda Cardoso has been named the recipient of the 2019–20 New Dimensions Fellowship for established visual artists.

Artsy explores Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keeffe’s formative friendship.

Colossal reviews Samantha Moore’s animated short film Bloomers, which recounts the history behind an undergarment business.

Shows We Want To See—Online Edition

Artnet offers a virtual look at two shows by women artists:

Per(Sister): Incarcerated Women of Louisiana, which was on view at the Ford Foundation Gallery in New York City, highlights the stories of 30 incarcerated women to “explore the root causes of female incarceration, the impact of incarcerating mothers, the physical and behavior toll of incarceration, and the challenges of and opportunities for reentry for formerly incarcerated women.”

A black and white photo of a naked woman holding what looks to be the bones of a broken umbrella and staring surprised at the camera.

Carolee Schneemann, from the series “Eye Body: 36 Transformative Actions for Camera,” 1963; Courtesy of the estate of Carolee Schneemann, Galerie Lelong & Co., Hales Gallery, PPOW New York

Up to and Including Limits: After Carolee Schneemann, which was on view at Museum Susch in Switzerland, features the work of the pioneering artist situated in conversation and contention with works by other body-based performance and visual artists. “This exhibition is driven by limits, both in media and society: how they can be overcome, transformed, and transgressed through time” says curator Sabine Breitweiser.

Google Arts & Culture has teamed up with 33 museums to host an epic digital exhibition of Frida Kahlo’s work—including Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky, part of NMWA’s collection. Faces of Frida features more than 200 works in addition to editorial features that discuss aspects of the artist’s work and life and archival materials.

—Alexa Kasner is the spring 2020 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts; Alicia Gregory is the assistant editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Director’s Desk: A Letter From Susan Fisher Sterling

Yael Bartana, What if Women Ruled the World, 2016; Neon, 98 1/2 x 38 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Museum purchase, Belinda de Gaudemar Acquisition Fund, with additional support from the Members’ Acquisition Fund; © Yael Bartana; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Yael Bartana, What if Women Ruled the World, 2016; Neon, 98 1/2 x 38 1/2 in.; NMWA, Museum purchase, Belinda de Gaudemar Acquisition Fund, with additional support from the Members’ Acquisition Fund; © Yael Bartana; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Unfortunately, I don’t have a way to fix the world right now. The museum is now nearly two weeks into an unprecedented closure—public health requires that museums, along with performance halls, movie theaters, and sports arenas join together to close our doors and slow the spread of coronavirus. During this unsettling period of isolation, though, we need to connect with one another more than ever, and I believe that the arts can provide that bridge.

In that spirit, I wanted to reach out to say that NMWA is here for you. We hope that in the days ahead, the museum and its art will become welcome resources as we face the impact of this coronavirus.

We realize that art is best experienced in person—it offers powerful ways for us to visualize our shared humanity, and museums have often served as places of refuge and solace. It is truly unprecedented and paradoxical that now, when we need it most, we are unable to physically come together to experience all that great art has to offer. Thank goodness so many of us have the capacity to share digitally…and share we shall!

Although NMWA is temporarily closed, we stand with our communities—both here and around the world. We are available online with artists, objects, and stories to lift the spirit, inspire the soul, and champion women artists.

Our new resource NMWA@Home is now up on our website, so please visit us. We are open online 24/7 with rich content that shares our collection and programming with audiences whenever and wherever they are ready to engage with us. NMWA’s staff is working to enhance our online offerings for children, students, families, and adults. We look forward to sharing new materials with you regularly in the coming days and weeks.

We value your participation and appreciate your comments and opinions, so please continue to share with us on social media. Connection is more important than ever.

Looking forward to hearing from you, and sending heartfelt wishes for your well-being.

Susan Fisher Sterling
The Alice West Director

5 Fast Facts about #5WomenArtists Changing the World: Rosângela Rennó

Brazilian artist Rosângela Rennó (b. 1962) works with discarded photographs found in flea markets, family albums, newspapers, and public archives to question the nature and symbolic value of an image. Her works shed light on the overlooked narratives of everyday people—including migrants and immigrants—throughout history and in times of political and social unrest.

A man, woman, and small child stand in the desert amidst an array of polished metal car parts including hubcaps, a spotlight fixture for a truck, handrails, and other unidentifiable materials. The man smiles at the camera while holding the small child, who has her hair in two pigtails. The woman stands close to them but unsmiling. To the left of the family the words "Estado de Mexico" are written in yellow type. A cluster of tall, lean green trees are in the background.

Rosãngela Rennó, United States (Mexican Series), Estado de México, 1999; Iris prints on sommerset paper, 17 x 23 in.; NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Rosângela Rennó, photo Eduardo Zepeda, courtesy of the artist and InSite

Share your favorite women artists working for immigrants’ rights on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook using the hashtag #5WomenArtists and tagging @WomenInTheArts.

1. The Ghosts of Brasília

In 1994, Rennó created the installation Immemorial for the group exhibition Relooking at Brasília. Instead of celebrating Brazil’s capital city, built rapidly between 1957 and 1960, Rennó faced its dark history. Overwhelming numbers of the project’s migrant workers—including women and children—fell to their deaths from the construction scaffolding. Rennó mined 50 worker identification photos from forgotten files and arranged the portraits like graves in a cemetery. Immemorial represents “a redemptive gesture, a resurrection of fallen bodies, those sacrificed in the building of the future.”

2. United States (Mexican Series)

Rennó worked with wedding portrait photographer Eduardo Zepeda on United States (Mexican Series) (1997–99), a public art project first displayed in shop windows in Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego, California. This suite of photographs shows people who had journeyed to Tijuana from Mexico’s 16 states, presumably to cross into the U.S. They are photographed in front of their workplaces in Tijuana, and an accompanying map indicates their places of origin. The work’s title deliberately—and ironically—alludes to the longstanding conflict surrounding migration and the heavy policing of the U.S.–Mexico border.

3. Reflections on a Colonial Past

In her video Vera Cruz (2000), Rennó appropriates a letter written by Portuguese knight Pêro Vaz de Caminha in 1500 about “discovering” Brazil. Rennó translated the letter into subtitles that play over a bleached background filled with scratches. The blank film alludes to the inability of the European and Indigenous peoples to understand each other. While Caminha’s letter has been described as reflecting “a deep sense of humanism,” history shows that colonization “brought about a savage suppression of traditional ways and freedoms.”


Rosãngela Rennó, United States (Mexican Series), San Luís Potosí, 1999; Iris prints on sommerset paper, 17 x 23 in.; NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Rosângela Rennó, photo Eduardo Zepeda, courtesy of the artist and InSite


Rosãngela Rennó, United States (Mexican Series), Oaxaca, 1999; Iris prints on sommerset paper, 17 x 23 in.; NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Rosângela Rennó, photo Eduardo Zepeda, courtesy of the artist and InSite


Rosãngela Rennó, United States (Mexican Series), Michoacán, 1999; Iris prints on sommerset paper, 17 x 23 in.; NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Rosângela Rennó, photo Eduardo Zepeda, courtesy of the artist and InSite

4. Hidden Histories

In 2016, Rennó presented Rio Montevideo, featuring images from the salvaged archives of the Uruguayan newspaper El Popular (published from 1957 to 1973). Photojournalist Aurelio González hid 48,626 negatives in the walls of the paper’s office to “save a record of the nation” before Uruguay’s military coup in 1973; this evidence of daily life and political unrest likely would have been destroyed otherwise. Her work raises compelling questions: What other visual narratives throughout history have been lost, hidden, or destroyed? Whose stories are not told?

5. Relearning to See

“The world will always have too many photographs,” Rennó has said. By working with found imagery, the artist brings new consideration to forgotten images and invites viewers to look closely. Perhaps, in that act, viewers can develop a deeper understanding of history’s obscured narratives and, in Rennó’s words, “the little stories of the downtrodden and the vanquished.”

—Alicia Gregory is the assistant editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Portraying Gender in Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico

One of the most influential contemporary photographers of Latin America, Graciela Iturbide has produced majestic and powerful images of her native Mexico for the past 50 years. Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico is the artist’s most extensive U.S. exhibition in more than two decades, comprising 140 black-and-white prints that reveal the artist’s own journey to understand her homeland and the world.

A black and white photo of four women outside on the side of a bright building in traditional embroidered tops, lace skirts, and flower head pieces move in a semi circle in various stages of dance.

Graciela Iturbide, Baile (Dance), Juchitán, 1986; Gelatin silver print, 8 x 12 in.; Courtesy of the artist; © Graciela Iturbide

In 1979, Graciela Iturbide (b. 1942) traveled to Juchitán, a small town in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, to photograph the Zapotec indigenous group. For nearly a decade, she immersed herself in the community during a series of visits, spending long periods with Zapotec women and cultivating friendships. Rather than merely document the people from an outsider’s perspective, Iturbide photographed her own interactions and encounters with the community. “I need to be close to the people…I need their complicity,” Iturbide has said. Her photographs are a conversation with the people of Juchitán, who convey their social structures and cultural practices to the artist on their own terms.

Iturbide’s Juchitán photographs highlight the culture’s powerful women and muxes, men who identify as women, a third gender that has been acknowledged and celebrated since pre-Hispanic times. In Juchitec society, women hold significant political, economic, and spiritual power. Muxes are similarly revered in Zapotec culture—they are believed to have special intellectual and artistic gifts. Iturbide’s photographs do not objectify or exoticize; instead, they depict respectful, poetic interactions.

Our Lady of the Iguanas

Our Lady of the Iguanas (Nuestra Señora de las Iguanas), Juchitán (1979) expresses the independence of the community’s women and their complex identities. This famous photograph depicts Zobeida Díaz on her way to the market, carrying the iguanas she will sell on her head. Iturbide photographs Díaz from below to create a sense of authority; at this angle, Díaz becomes larger than life. Iturbide frames her in a dignified pose within an archway. The iguanas, an important cultural symbol of the Zapotec, encircle her head like a halo. It is an image of reverence for Zapotec women. “The photographer’s job is to synthesize, to make strong and poetic work from daily life,” said Iturbide. This image captures both the strong and the poetic, while celebrating the diverse cultural heritage of Zapotec women.

Iturbide_Our Lady of the Iguanas

Graciela Iturbide, Nuestra Señora de las Iguanas (Our Lady of the Iguanas), Juchitán, 1979; Gelatin silver print, 10 x 8 in.; Collection of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser; © Graciela Iturbide; Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Iturbide_Magnolia with Sombrero

Graciela Iturbide, Magnolia con sombrero (Magnolia with Sombrero), Juchitán, 1986; Gelatin silver print, 12 x 8 in.; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; 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; Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Magnolia with Sombrero

As she does in other portraits, Iturbide photographs muxes on their own terms. Magnolia con sombrero (Magnolia with Sombrero), Juchitán (1986), and additional images of Magnolia, were taken at her request. She holds out her dress for Iturbide’s camera and smiles as she displays the lace detail. Magnolia is at ease as she proudly poses; Iturbide’s presence is not an intrusion. The image conveys Magnolia’s personality and confidence, rather than exoticizing her societal position.

In her images from Juchitán, Iturbide reveals her subjects’ full and complex humanity. These photographs celebrate and acknowledge the rich culture of the Zapotec through an empathetic lens.

*Unless otherwise noted, information is adapted from Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico: Photographs, by Kristen Gresh, with an essay by Guillermo Sheridan.

—Hannah Southern was the fall 2019 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts; Alicia Gregory is the assistant editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts

Art Fix Friday: March 20, 2020

A hand sanitizer wall contraption on a white background.

Zoë Sheehan Saldaña, Hand Sanitizer, 2010; Courtesy of Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum

Observer profiles artist Zoë Sheehan Saldaña, whose conceptual work has taken on new meaning during the Coronavirus pandemic. For years, Saldaña has made hand sanitizer and other commonplace objects as an “investigation into the everyday craftsmanship we take for granted.” The artist’s most recent batch was created for her exhibition There Must Be Some Way Out of Here at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, which recently closed due to the virus.   

“The work has changed meaning from experimentation to urgency—people were initially disinfecting out of curiosity, but lately it was a result of need,” said Cybele Maylone, executive director of the Aldrich.  

Front-Page Femmes 

London’s National Gallery has postponed its Artemisia Gentileschi exhibition, scheduled to open April 4, because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Artsy profiles Ilana Harris-Babou, who turns cultural preoccupations with cooking shows, self-improvement, design, and the beauty industry into surreal videos and sculptures. 

The New Yorker profiles Fiona Apple on the cusp of releasing a new album. “It felt more like a sculpture being built than an album being made,” said Apple’s bandmate.  

Tate Modern announced that Anicka Yi, whose works address migration, gender, and class, has been selected for the next Hyundai Commission for Turbine Hall.  

Juxtapoz interviews sculptor Rose Neslter about the ways people communicate their identities through fashion.   

A fabric sculpture of a fitted suit jacket hung on a wall, with elongated arm/gloves reaching the floor.

Rose Nestler, Another Set of Hands, 2019; Courtesy of the artist

Colossal profiles baker Hannah P., who works at the intersection of art and food transforming loaves into edible canvases. 

British performance artist Genesis Breyer P-Orridge has died at age seventy; Artnews celebrates the artist’s legacy by examining six of their works.

Artsy profiles Lygia Clark in the 100th anniversary year of her birth; three international solo exhibitions are planned in celebration of her legacy this year.   

Artnet interviews artist-couple Carrie Moyer and Sheila Pepe about their joint show at the Portland Museum of Art in Maine.   

French-American actress and director Tonie Marshall has died at age 68; she was only female director to win a César award, France’s equivalent of an Oscar  

Shows We Want To See—Online Edition 

As galleries and museums around the world close over the spread of the Coronavirus, writer-curators Barbara Pollack and Anne Verhallen have organized an online group show  responding to the crisis. How Can We Think of Art in a Time Like This features work by Lynn Hershman Leeson, Judith Bernstein, Janet Biggs, Miao Ying, and more. “There is always something going on in the world that seems to overshadow creative effort, and yet it’s so important for creative effort to continue, said Pollack. New artists will be added weekly.  

Artist Ebony Patterson stands in front of her garden installation, a lush arrangement of white red and yellow flowers, speaking at the opening of the exhibition.

Ebony G. Patterson speaks at the opening of . . . while the dew is still on the roses . . . at the Nasher Museum of Art; Photo by J Caldwell

Artnet offers a virtual look at Ebony G. Patterson…while the dew is still on the roses…, which was on view at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University in North Carolina. Patterson’s neo-baroque works “address violence, masculinity, ‘bling,’ visibility, and invisibility within the post-colonial context of her native Kingston and within black youth culture globally.” The lush installation explores the role gardens have played in Patterson’s practice as sites of growth and burial, beauty and decay.  

—Alexa Kasner is the spring 2020 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.