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"Tina Modotti and the Mexican Renaissance"
2000-04-08 until 2000-05-28
Moderna Museet
Stockholm, , SE Sweden

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 '30s.

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 performances.

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

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