Indepth Arts News: |
"Tina Modotti and the Mexican Renaissance"
2000-04-08 until 2000-05-28
Tina Modotti and the Mexican Renaissance
8 April - 28 May 2000
Tina Modotti (1896-1942) was born in Italy and moved as a
teenager to the US, where she found work in the Hollywood
film industry. She became acquainted with the American
photographer, Edward Weston, who taught her photography.
Together with Weston she travelled to Mexico, where after
breaking with Weston, she came in contact with left-wing
radical groups as well as the artists Diego Rivera and Frida
Kahlo. At this time she began to use her camera to document
their work but also as a political weapon. She was finally
deported from Mexico to Europe and participated in the
Spanish Civil War on the Republican side. She was trained as
a Komintern agent in the Soviet Union and worked for a time
in Berlin. At the beginning of the '40s and under an assumed
name, she returned to Mexico where she died in 1942. The
photographs included in the exhibition was made from the
1920s to the end of the 1930s.
Curators: Leif Wigh, Patricia Albers and Sam Stourdzé
Tina Modotti and the Mexican Renaissance shows Modotti's
photography between 1923 and 1930 when she was working in
Mexico. During the 1920s, together with her American mentor,
Edward Weston, Modotti introduced a new idea of modernity in
the form of “Straight Photography” to Mexico. The exhibition at
Moderna Museet also reflects the impact of her photography on
the development of Mexican modernism during the 1920s and
Tina Modotti (1896-1942) was born in Udine in northern Italy
and grew up in poverty. Her father, who was a mechanic, took
his family to Austria for a time. However, after a few years they
returned to Udine, and the father set off for America in order to
try to earn enough money to support his family. In due course
he sent for his wife and children who came in stages to San
Francisco, to the Italian quarter of North Beach where he lived.
Tina Modotti herself landed in San Francisco in 1913, and as a
teenager, she found employment as a seamstress in a clothing
factory. In her free time she acted in amateur theatre
After a while, she managed to get a foothold in the film industry
in Los Angeles and Hollywood, acting in various silent films - for
instance in the melodrama The Tiger's Coat (1919). Her
dark-eyed, somewhat exotic beauty came into its own in femme
fatal roles. During her period in Hollywood in the early 1920s,
she associated with intellectuals, poets, writers, film makers
and photographers including Edward Weston, who had already
attracted a great deal of attention for his uncompromising
portraits. Weston was to have a crucial impact on Tina
Modotti's life for the rest of the decade.
Modotti, who had seen Weston's photographs both in the display
case outside his studio and in exhibitions, became his student.
And shortly after, they established a friendship that soon turned
into a passionate love affair. In 1923 Modotti and Weston went
together to Mexico, where they intended to work as portrait
photographers. Modotti worked as Weston's darkroom assistant
and studio stage manager and learned how to take photographs.
They became acquainted with Mexican artists and intellectuals,
of whom Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Ricardo Gómez Robelo,
Guadalupe Marin, Xavier Guerrero and Jean Charlot were
amongst the most significant.
At the end of 1924 Modotti began to liberate herself from
Weston and to work more independently, while at the same time,
her political interests began to increase. In November 1924,
she was represented by ten photographs in a group show in the
Palacio de Mineria. In 1925 she became a member of the
communist organisation, International Red Aid. To her ordinary
work with portrait photography she now added an interest in
social themes, focusing on everyday life and the struggle for
existence. Several of her photos from this time depicted
ideological questions in a documentary manner, which caused
cracks in the relationship with the less political Weston.
Nevertheless, in 1926 they worked together on a project
documenting Mexican art for Anita Brenner's book, Idols Behind
Altars. Modotti was asked to contribute to the magazine,
Mexican Folkways and in October of the same year she also
contributed pictures to the Exhibition of Modern Mexican Art.
After the opening of the exhibition, Weston left Mexico and
returned to California, while Tina Modotti stayed behind.
Although separated, they remained friends for the rest of their
lives. Modotti was active in various Left Front organisations
that had relations with the Communist Party, in which she
became a member in 1927. Her photographs became more
clearly political and were shown in exhibitions both in Mexico
and California. Her pictures were also published regularly in the
radical magazine, El Machete.
Modotti socialised with, amongst others, the Communist leader,
Julio Antonio Mella, who on an evening walk with Modotti in
January 1929, was murdered by unknown assailants. Modotti
was suspected of the crime and placed under house arrest for a
time. Her large exhibition that opened in December the same
year in Mexico City's National Library was condemned and she
was accused of being Mella's murderer. In early 1930 she was
imprisoned for alleged connections with a group planning to
murder Mexico's President. She was released after two weeks,
but was deported to Europe, with Fascist Italy as her
destination. With the help of European Communists, she
managed to get free upon arrival in Europe and went to live in
Berlin, where she became a staff member of the picture agency,
Unionfotos. Shortly after, she went to Moscow.
Despite a number of successful exhibitions in the US, Modotti
stopped taking photographs altogether and devoted herself
wholly to working for the Communist Party. In 1936, during the
Spanish civil war, she worked for the International Red Aid at a
war hospital as a nurse, changing her name to Maria. Three
years later, when Franco's victory was secure, she fled with
other leftists to Mexico under a false name. In 1941 she was
guaranteed asylum and reclaimed her real name. On the fifth of
January 1942, she was found dead in a taxi and the details of
her death have never been entirely clarified.
Exhibition Curator: Leif Wigh