Spotlight Series: Zeke Peña

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“Graciela's work grabs you, it pulls you in. So when I was working with her images I tried not to change them much, because I don't think they need anything. I was simply was trying to translate and place them in a graphic narrative.” -Zeke Peña

About fourteen years ago while traveling on a road trip through Northern Mexico, Zeke Peña brought only one book with him: a small, pocket-sized book of photographs by Graciela Iturbide. A few years ago, the works of Graciela Iturbide entered his life again when he was presented with the opportunity to illustrate Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide, published by Getty Publications. It was not until he was preparing the proposal for the book that he made the connection between the subject of his most recent project and the photographs that accompanied him throughout the landscape of Northern Mexico. 

Zeke Peña, Juchitán, 2017

Zeke Peña, Juchitán, 2017

In the pages of Photographic, Peña recreated Iturbide’s subjects in a graphic form, allowing the reader to understand the narrative around Iturbide’s images. In one of Peña’s drawings, two women from Juchitán walk across the composition with their skirts flowing behind them as they move forward. The two walking women originate from a photograph in Iturbide’s series from Juchitán, a body of work that greatly resonates with Peña both because of the indigenous community’s resistance to western colonial, patriarchal influence and the subjects’ proximity to his own cultural and racial identity. Through the research that Isabel Quintero — the author of Photographic and Peña’s collaborator —  conducted, Peña learned in great detail about the lives and history of the women in Juchitán. Within a community where women owned property and had enormous agency relative to in western culture, the women in Juchitán moved with both power and a joyful sense of ease, which is felt strongly in Iturbide’s photographs. 

In Zeke’s drawing of the two women from Juchitán, they move across an empty space where the viewer can imagine their surroundings, but in the actual context of the photograph the words La Libertad are sprayed above them. Within their environment, everyday life moves alongside the political undertones of their existence. Libertad from the pressures of an imposing colonial culture that denounces their cultural practices and the agency of women in their community. Libertad from the invisibility of their lives and stories, for in Peña’s words: “For indigenous people, story is everything.”

Graciela Iturbide, Untitled, from her series Juchitán, c. 1986


Graciela Iturbide, Untitled, from her series Juchitán, c. 1986

As a storyteller himself whose work is rooted in the oral histories of people of the border region, Peña felt the impact of Iturbide’s subjects and the mastered methodology with which she approached and photographed them, continuing to pass oral histories through a photographic form. Through the respect that Iturbide gave her subjects and stories, she spotlights the indigenous cultures she photographed in intimate and true detail. In Peña’s work from Photographic, he derives the subjects from Iturbide’s photographs while bringing his own discoveries and connections to the page, highlighting the intimate narratives that play through the works of Graciela Iturbide with his own pen.