Ambassador Barcena’s remarks on the inauguration of Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico


We are privileged to collaborate with the National Museum of Women in the Arts and the rest of its valuable sponsors, particularly RBC Wealth Management, to bring you the most extensive exhibition of the great Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide in the U.S. in over two decades.

Thank you to Susan Sterling, Director of the museum, for the introduction and for the amazing work she has done with this fantastic place.

Over the span of more than twenty years, the collaboration between the Mexican Cultural Institute and the National Museum of Women in the Arts has allowed us to bring to Washington audiences the work of notable female Mexican artists, including Remedios Varo, Leonora Carrington and Frida Kahlo.  We are confident that our long-lasting alliance will remain strong in the years to come.

Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico depicts the productive career of one of the most influential photographers of Mexico and Latin America.

The photographs that you will see describe the five-decades-long journey of a unique story teller that reflects the contrasts of Mexico —and of Iturbide herself— in all its complexity.

It is, however, a singular journey that fails to follow a specific route. It doesn’t have a clear beginning nor an established end, and it does not conform to folk, anthropological or popular aesthetic tendencies.

This journey is easier to understand as one big visual testimony, comprised by many different poems and stories about the faces, rituals, landscapes, and even birds, that give Mexico its distinctive character.

The subjective nature of Graciela Iturbide’s photos derives from the perspective of an artist that decided to rediscover the meaning of life and death through her camera lens and embarked on a lifelong trip in search for answers.

Her quest took her to places and corners of Mexico, from North to South, as if to face the people and the locations she had seen in her dreams.

From the Sonora desert with the Seri people all the way to Juchitán with the Zapotecs and the Muxes, through Chalma in Mexico State and Frida’s Casa Azul in Coyoacán, Graciela immersed herself into the depths of Mexico and some of the stories she brought on her way back became so powerful that are now part of the collective consciousness of Mexicans.

The great Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Graciela’s mentor, used to say that “in order to see the invisible you had to carefully watch the visible”.

Iturbide has made the invisible visible and has managed to showcase the “extraordinary” within the “ordinary” through a personal connection and complicity with the people and places where she has lived and connected with through her life journey.

There is no “other” in her work, because Graciela talks and listens carefully to the faces and hearts of the people she photographs, managing to always capture their dignity. That is why we know, for example, that Women Angel is Angelita and the iconic Lady of the Iguanas is Zoraida.

The late American photographer Alfred Stieglitz said that “in photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.”

By capturing reality in the humblest, most sincere, most everyday way she can, she has managed to penetrate into the extraordinary. This is why regardless of how ordinary the subject of the image may seem, the resulting picture is invariably extraordinary and full of wonder.


The lights and shadows of Graciela Iturbide’s life cohabitate with her gelatin silver prints and expose the coexistence of tradition and modernity as well as the contrasts between animal and human; sacred and profane; remote and recent; feminine and masculine, health and disease, and life and death.

Her work seems to wander on the borders and edges of things and places about to become something else, as when you peak right into the middle of a story whose beginning and ending you ignore. These mysteries, inherent in her work, make the viewing of her photos a continuous act of discovery.

Dear friends:

Octavio Paz once wrote that “reality is more real in black and white”. It only takes a glance of Graciela Iturbide’s work to confirm that truer words were never spoken.

Graciela Iturbide is an avid storyteller, a creative powerhouse and a feminist icon that defied social and artistic conventions.

Tonight, we are proud and grateful that her impressive journey brought her here with us on this very special occasion.

Thank you very much.

I now give the floor to Amy Sturtevant from RBC Wealth Management.