“Pasado y Presente: Twentieth-Century Photographs of a Changing Mexico” is the first Latin America-focused exhibition featured at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art (BCMA) in the past 15 years. The collection of photographs, curated by Associate Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Carolyn Wolfenzon Niego’s intermediate Spanish class, opened on January 7 and will be on display through March.
Wolfenzon and students from her fall course “War of the Latin American Worlds” collaborated with Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow Sean P. Burrus in their curatorial work. Each student matched a photograph with a quote they had studied in class, a process which allowed them to grasp the contributions of 20th century writers and artists to Mexican culture.
The exhibition includes works by six acclaimed modern photographers: Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Manuel Carrillo, Kati Horna, Dana Salvo, Marilyn Bridges and Ken Heyman.
“I hope that many people in the university, especially [those] that have a Mexican background, see their own cultures represented and get to know important artists from their own culture,” Wolfenzon said.
Wolfenzon developed an appreciation for photography as an art form through her study of journalism. Her interest in the arts, however, spans beyond photography—in the fall, she brought Peruvian dancers to campus for a dance event open to the community.
In discussing Latin American literature last semester, Wolfenzon distinguished between three regions: Mexico, Chile and Peru. Aware that BCMA holds a collection of modern Mexican photographs, she decided to combine literature and photography to try something new.
“I really was a bit hesitant if it [would] work or not or if [students would] make the connections or not,” she said. “But feedback [from] the students was good. Very good.”
Initially, the class wanted to curate an exhibit that included Peruvian, Chilean and Mexican photography from the small collection of Latin American art owned by BCMA. In the process of curating this exhibition, Wolfenzon and her class found that BCMA’s Latin American photography collection is currently limited to 25 photographs.
“We need to improve their collection, little by little, of Latin American art—there’s not enough,” said Wolfenzon.
In an effort to diversify the collection, Wolfenzon’s course viewed the work of three different Peruvian photographers and voted to purchase three prints by Fidel Carillo, who, like Wolfenzon, began as a journalist. Through his photography, Carillo captured subjects which include Peruvian history and migration.
“I think the most difficult part of curating the exhibit was figuring out how to narrow down such a rich collection of photographs in order to fit the space of the room,” said Ely Spencer ’20. “We tried to select a range of photos that promote a diverse and nuanced outlook on life in Mexico.”
“I hope that this can be common and serve as an inspiration to some students who can connect the arts, or some educators can see the different projects that we can do in our classes,” Wolfenzon said.