American Art and National Identity


Fig. 13. Graciela Iturbide, b. 1942
Mujer / Angel (Angel Woman), 1996,
photogravuer, 25/30,
17 1/8 x 24 9/16 inches
Brauer Museum of Art,
Gift of T. Marshall Rousseau, 96.26.2

In spite of America's bullish way with the world, people persist. They refuse to be diminished to grist for the economic mill. Graciela Iturbide's marvelous photograph, Angel/Woman (1979; fig. 13), shows a Mexican woman in the Sonoran Desert fabricating her existence from a cultural past, a bleak landscape, and the consumerist world of American capitalism represented by the ghetto blaster she totes through a difficult passage.[5] Identity is not something one inherits intact and is destined to carry through life as a fixed burden. Character is the product of history, a hybrid of cultures, and the choices that individual people make about the lives they wish to lead. Identity is negotiated between the present and the

past. This woman, a Seri Indian whose face is hidden from view, walks in her traditional dress as if out of the magical space of a novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. She is an anomaly, but also a survivor, and more: she is a harbinger of a larger, future American identity. This mysterious Angel and Woman bears a message of what may come to pass as the border culture between Mexico and the United States broadens across North and Central America in a historical rhythm of change that we can now only begin to intuit.


5. On Iturbide and her photographs, see Images of the Spirit: Photographs by Graciela Iturbide (New York: Aperture, 1996).

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