Graciela Iturbide: Mujer Ángel

IN: (Nov 08, 2021)In Depth

Mujer Ángel (Angel Woman), Sonoran Desert, 1980

Mujer Ángel [Angel Woman], Sonoran Desert, 1980

Mujer Ángel (Angel Woman), Sonoran Desert, 1980

Mujer Ángel [Angel Woman], Sonoran Desert, 1980

Mujer Ángel (Angel Woman), Sonoran Desert, 1980

Mujer Ángel is one of Iturbide’s most well known images. It depicts a Seri woman striding into a textured landscape. In one hand she grasps a stereo, exchanged with baskets and carvings from the neighbouring Americans. Her thick dark hair plunges down her back, forming a trunk-like spine on her exterior. 

The Seri people, also referred to as the Comcáac, originally lived nomadically on Isla del Tiburón in the Mar de Cortés within the Gulf of California and the coastal area of the mainland nearby. Today, they live in Mexico and blend their ancient ways with the modern world, aiming to find a balance between the two. 

Iturbide took Mujer Ángel while working on a project about the Seri people for the ethnographic archive of the National Indigenous Institute. At the time, there were only 500 people in the community, so the photographer had to work hard to gain their trust and comfort while she captured aspects of their lives. Iturbide took this image on a trip to see some indigenous cave paintings, naming the figure the ‘Angel Woman’ because it looks “as if she could fly off into the desert”. She describes the moment like “a gift life gave me. There was the music from her cassette, her hair was all tangled up”. To the artist, the photograph represents the transition between the Seri traditional way of life, and the way capitalism has changed it. The community adopts aspects of American culture while retaining their ancient traditions in order to uphold their heritage while adapting to the modern world. 

The image itself is haunting in its simplicity. Striding forcefully into the grassland, the Seri woman’s figure penetrates the composition, the upper half of her body jutting starkly out against the overcast sky. Aside from its obvious aesthetic qualities, the photograph appears to emit a sonic aspect. One is invited to imagine the stereo’s music, alongside the swishing movement of the Seri woman’s hair and her garments fluttering in the wind. As her body edges forward, the photograph immortalises a moment of electric tension.

(By Eleanor Lerman)

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