Academy Art Museum Announces New Acquisitions

The Academy Art Museum is pleased to announce the acquisition of three new artworks to the museum’s permanent collection: Graciela Iturbide, Nuestra Señora de las Iguanas, Juchitan, Mexico; Zanele Muholi, Vika II, The Decks, Cape Town; Fay Ku, Sea Change.

These new acquisitions align with the Academy Art Museum’s goals to collect the highest-quality work of accomplished artists, have a wider and more diverse representation of artists pushing boundaries in the field, and to deliver educational value through its recent acquisitions. “As a small museum located in a rural area, we’re thrilled to provide our audiences with access to these important artists and the compelling ideas their works explore. We are so fortunate to have generous supporters who are committed to growing this community resource.” said AAM Director Sarah Jesse

Graciela Iturbide, Nuestra Señora de las Iguanas, Juchitan, Mexico, 1979, silver gelatin print

Graciela Iturbide is an award-winning and widely-collected lens-based artist. She is invested in articulating a poetic retelling of the culture and history of indigenous people. Our Lady of the Iguanas pictures a Zapotec woman named Zubaida, whom Iturbide met in a market in the city of Juchitan. Iturbide would later observe that the women here had “an ethereal sense of self-possession.” At the market, most women would carry the goods they were selling on their heads, and Zubaida was precisely doing that with the iguanas, which would be sold as pets. Her immediate recognition of a woman selling iguanas as a poetic, powerful moment led to the making of the portrait.

Iturbide’s ability to reach a level of intimacy with her subjects, especially as a woman artist, is remarkable and meaningful. In Our Lady of the Iguanas, Iturbide not only presents an intimate look at a woman mystic, but also places her in the context of art history and colonial history. The iguanas that form a halo around the woman’s head, and the camera’s lower position, casts the woman as a saintly figure – an unlikely one whose present has been so deeply affected by the colonial past. Iturbide subtly and effortlessly parallels the depiction of religious icons in Mexico through photography. Our Lady of the Iguanas speaks to a viewer at multiple levels: it is easy to be surprised at the unusual relationship between the woman and the iguanas, and imagine her as a whisperer and a healer.

Graciela Iturbide, Nuestra Señora de las Iguanas, Juchitan, Mexico, 1979, silver gelatin print

Graciela Iturbide (b. 1942, Mexico City, Mexico) is a photographer best known for her documentation of Mexico’s rural landscapes and the indigenous Juchitan, Mixtec, Seri, and Zapotec communities who live there. Her mysterious and poetic silver gelatin prints deliver her signature style of storytelling, which weaves the past and the present through imagery that initially appears to be timeless yet contains subtle details of modern life. Her best-known works picture women, casting them as mythical heroines juxtaposed against the dramatic terrain.

Iturbide’s work has been presented in solo exhibitions at major institutions, such as the Centre Pompidou (1982), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1990), Philadelphia Museum of Art (1997), John Paul Getty Museum (2007), MAPFRE Foundation, Madrid (2009), Photography Museum Winterthur (2009), Barbican Art Gallery (2012), the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2019), and the National Museum of Women in the Arts (2020), among others. Iturbide is the recipient of the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Foundation Award, 1987; the Grand Prize Mois de la Photo, Paris, 1988; a Guggenheim Fellowship for the project “Fiesta y Muerte”, 1988; the Hugo Erfurth Award, Leverkusen, Germany, 1989; The International Grand Prize, Hokkaido, Japan, 1990; The Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie Award, Arles, 1991; the Hasselblad Award, 2008; the National Prize of Sciences and Arts in Mexico City in 2008; an Honorary Degree in photography from Columbia College, Chicago in 2008; and an Honorary Doctorate of Arts from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2009.

Zanele Muholi, Vika II, The Decks, Cape Town, 2019, gelatin silver print

Zanele Muholi, Vika II, The Decks, Cape Town, 2019, gelatin silver print

Zanele Muholi is one of the most inventive and accomplished image-makers today. Muholi’s work can be read simultaneously as a work of art and activism. The Somnyama Ngonyama series challenges pre-conceived societal notions of beauty because Muholi is in front of the camera as a dark-skinned Black person and is presented themselves as a beautiful, dignified subject. Muholi conceived of this series because of a sentiment that self-portraiture would yield a fruitful exploration of Black identity as well as a subversion of stereotypes.

Muholi’s gesture of biting into a circular wicker decorative object, possibly a fan or a placemat, feels gentle and imposing at the same time, as the subject’s stern look beckons the viewer to stop and take in the image in all its detail. The object itself is reminiscent of an African lip plate, a form of traditional body modification that has often been exoticized, and its wearers treated as a tourist attraction. Muholi teases the viewer with a form that resembles the plate, inviting the assumption that the subject is a mere object for the pleasure and curiosity of the viewer’s gaze. A closer look reveals that the object is not plate inside Muholi’s lip but merely a wicker disc the subject is playfully biting. Performing for the camera, Muholi complicates the dynamics of the image: the artist has all the control both as image-maker and subject. The work is also compelling due to its symmetry and beautiful contrast.

The work also relates to the history of photography because of the medium’s varying ability to depict different skin tones. The medium was developed to depict more nuance and tonality in lighter shades, and exposure recommendations were made using exclusively white models. As a result, analog and digital photography technology is less able to express a variety of tones at the darker end of the spectrum. Muholi highlights this by leaving the deep tone of skin untouched and uncorrected. The contrast between the light and the dark in their imagery also alludes to the symbolic use of darkness art history, as religious art often utilized the color white to depict goodness and the color black to depict devilishness, darkness, and sin. The legacy of this practice permeated through colonialism. As a sophisticated, layered and beautiful subject in front of the camera, Muholi challenges these notions meaningfully.

Zanele Muholi (b. South Africa, 1972) is an artist and visual activist working in photography, video, and installation. Muholi’s work focuses on identity, with a body of work that dates back to the early 2000s. Muholi was shortlisted for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize in 2015, received an Infinity Award from the International Center of Photography in 2016, a Chevalier de Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2016, and an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society in 2018.

Solo exhibitions include the Cummer Museum, Brooklyn Museum, Tate Modern, and Stedelijk Museum, and Muholi’s work is in the collections of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Brooklyn Museum, Carnegie Museum of Art, Guggenheim Museum, Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco Museum of Art, Tate Modern, and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Fay Ku, Sea Change, 2009, single-color lithograph

Fay Ku, Sea Change, 2009, single-color lithograph

Fay Ku’s dreamy style delivers a potent exploration of femininity and features the symbols of peacock and koi fish from Chinese and Taiwanese culture. Her dynamically-toned and detailed lithography print pictures a mermaid-like figure, made dreamlike through Ku’s flowing lines and illustrative gradients and textures. The mermaid holds a bounty fish around her, and her simultaneous curvy tail and round figure alludes to sexuality and fertility. The illusory quality makes the work more complex and challenges the notion that a woman must either be coyly feminine or material. Ku also depicts some of the fish looking up at the mermaid in wonder, while others are devoured in the mermaid’s belly, and therefore balances the conventionally-optimistic explorations of fertility with its darker emotional obstacles.

Fay Ku (b. 1974 in Taipei, Taiwan; lives in Brooklyn, New York) is an artist whose narrative-driven, poetic works explore gender identity, cultural history, and societal change. Ku is the recipient of a 2007 Louis Comfort Tiffany Grant and 2009 New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship grant. She has exhibited extensively, including solo exhibitions at the Honolulu Museum of Art (Honolulu, Hawaii); New Britain Museum of American Art (New Britain, CT); and Snite Museum of Art (South Bend, IN). She has participated in several artist residencies including Wave Hill (The Bronx, NY); Lower East Side Printshop (New York, NY); and Bemis Center for Contemporary Art (Omaha, NE). Ku will be discussing her surreal artworks at the Academy Art Museum on Thursday, April 21st at 6pm as part of the free Kittredge Wilson Lecture Series. Reservations for the event can be made on AAM’s website.