Women have long been portrayed in art as inscrutable ciphers, from the ancient Greek Kore statues with their tight smiles to the Mona Lisa. But photographer Flor Garduño plays with those enigmatic representations, showing women as not only idealized and mysterious creatures but also powerful and self-fulfilled beings.
"Mujeres Fantasticas" (Fantastic Women) is one of three themes richly explored in the Garduño exhibition "Trilogy" at the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego through May 29. The show's 96 works include pieces shot in Poland, the artist's native Mexico and in Switzerland, where she spends part of the year.
Garduño's art is informed by her heritage but transcends borders, said Deborah Klochko, the museum's executive director.
"Her work is exquisite," Klochko said "It's well crafted. It's mysterious and evocative."
Reached by phone in Mexico City, Garduño said in Spanish that the "Trilogy" groupings — women, beasts and what she calls "silent natures" — reflect her interests throughout her career. Born in 1957 in Mexico City, Garduño studied visual art and then began working as a photographer in the early 1980s, when she landed a job taking pictures for the Ministry of Education. She gained recognition in Mexico first, then in the U.S. and in Europe, for photos of indigenous people, portraits and nudes, and for her street photography and still lifes.
Many photos evoke myth and magic through unexpected pairings.
"Rapto, Suiza," from 2008, suggests female and animal strength, either as complements or perhaps as competitors. It shows a woman from behind, her body covered in a gauzy veil that billows in the wind. The bird's broad wings seem to be lifting off from her hand. It's impossible to tell where animal ends and woman begins. She could be about to take flight, or she could be anchoring the bird. Is the woman human or divine?
The part of the exhibition themed "Bestiarium" explores animals and includes an image taken in Mexico in 1987. A man holds a bull by a rope, and a goat stands on the bull. The goat was known for standing on cows and bulls, and the photographer just captured the moment.