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Art Pick of the Week: El Machete

June 17th, 2019

Tina Modotti. El Machete, 1926. Gelatin silver print, Sheet: 23.8 × 18.8. Gift of Harry and Ann Malcolmson, 2015. © Art Gallery of Ontario 2015/248.

The Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival may be over, but the AGO’s exhibition Photography, 1920s–1940s: Women in Focus remains on view until November 10. In it you’ll find two works by Italian-born photographer and political activist Tina Modotti, including our Art Pick of the Week, El Machete, which can be seen for free by AGO Members, AGO Annual Pass holders and all visitors 25 and under!

Before establishing a career in photography, Tina Modotti (b. 1896) dabbled in modelling while also appearing in stage plays, operas and eventually silent films.  In 1923, Modotti moved to Mexico City where she began working in Edward Weston’s studio.

Modotti had a knack for composition and the nuanced use of shadow. Inspired by Mexican folk art, she began photographing subjects that ranged from overhead street wires to the hands of working class people in the city. During this time, Modotti became friends with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, often photographing the details in Rivera’s street murals.

A dedicated member of the communist party, Modotti chose subjects that demonstrated her political ideas. El Machete from the AGO Collection is a great example.  In this photograph,Modotti has captured a person reading the communist newspaper El Machete, prominently displaying the day’s front page story “Abajo la guerra contra Rusia!” which roughly translates to “Down with the war against Russia!” Modotti’s political activity eventually led the Mexican government to ban her from the country. After leaving, Modotti abandoned photography in favour of continued political and social activism.  

Stay tuned each week for a new Art Pick.

Admission to the AGO Collection and all special exhibitions is always free for AGO Members, AGO Annual Pass holders and visitors 25 and under. For more information, please visit the website.

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