Lourdes Grobet, photographer of masked lucha libre stars, dies at 81

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Lourdes Grobet, a Mexican photographer who focused her camera on the rowdy, high-flying sport of lucha libre, demystifying one of Mexico’s national pastimes with images that captured professional wrestlers in the ring and at the house — raising her arms in triumph, feeding a starving baby, posing for a family portrait (while wearing their signature wrestling masks) — died July 15 at her Mexico City home. She was 81 years old.

Her son Xavier said she had been ill but did not give a specific cause. On Twitter, the Mexican Ministry of Culture called Mrs. Grobet “one of the greatest exponents of photographic art in Mexico”, adding that “his work depicts urban culture from the perspective of socially marginalized groups”.

In an artistic career that spanned more than half a century, Ms. Grobet embarked on theater, film and video projects, examining issues of social class and gender while trying to make room for women in the traditionally male-dominated art world. She photographed indigenous actors in a Mexican theater troupe, made wall murals of home appliances, and traveled to the Bering Strait, the ice curtain between Russia and the United States, to take photos and video clips for a project examine the notions of political borders and migration.

But she was best known for taking her camera to wrestling arenas across Mexico, where she showed the eye of an anthropologist while photographing wrestlers known as luchadores and taking pictures of crowds. who came to see them fight. His photos captured near-mythical wrestlers such as Blue Demon and El Santo – the silver-masked hero who became one of Mexico’s most beloved athletes – and often wore a whiff of surrealism, with the luchadores wearing their masks away from the ring . .

Juxtaposing the ordinary and the theatrical, Mme Grobet photographed a masked blue demon dressed in an elegant three-piece suit, complete with cufflinks and a neatly tied tie. His portrait from 1980 from the father-son duo of Tinieblas and Tinieblas Jr. showed them seated at home in their usual shimmering gold and silver outfits, and joined by their fur-covered mascot Alushe, who looked like an Ewok from Star Wars .

Ms. Grobet took a particular interest in the domestic lives of wrestlers, photographing a shirtless luchador at its plush living room next to a life-size sculpture of a hunting dog. Other footage showed female wrestlers putting on makeup before a match or tending to their children afterwards, with a masked female fighter shown feed her baby of a bottle. The photo was part of a series titled “La Doble Lucha” (“The Double Struggle”).

“While their costumes are a reflection of their character, it’s their job to be part of a show. And out of the arena they are like us,” Ms Grobet told the British newspaper Independent newspaper.

Raised in a family of “sport fanatics and body worshippers,” Ms. Grobet had been interested in lucha libre since childhood. But her father forbade her from attending wrestling matches – “He didn’t think it was the kind of thing women should see”, she told journalist Angélica Abelleyra – and didn’t began to follow the sport closely only in the 1980s.

“Here I saw what I thought was the real Mexican culture,” she recalled in an interview last year with AWARE, a Parisian association that promotes female artists. “At this point in my photographs, I didn’t want to portray a tedious, exaggerated view of Mexico. But there, in the wrestling ring, I found the real Mexico. The fight organizers bothered me at first, because they had never had a female photographer doing what I was doing. But I told them how much I wanted and needed to be there, and eventually they understood and gave me a special permit.

Ms. Grobet went on to publish over 11,000 wrestling photos, many of which appeared in her book “Lucha Libre: Masked Superstars of Mexican Wrestling” (2005), which helped bring the sport to a wider audience in the United States. United. Paramount executives reportedly bought dozens of copies as they prepared to make the wrestling film “Nacho Libre” (2006) starring Jack Black.

The film was a comedy, although Ms Grobet insisted the sport was serious enough. She located it in what she described as a long tradition of mask-wearing in Mexico, which stretched back to pre-Hispanic times and included an ancient stone head found in the Great Pyramid of Cholula. Anyone who thought lucha libre was a camp, she saysengaged in “social class prejudice”.

María de Lourdes Grobet Argüelles was born in Mexico City on July 25, 1940. Her father, Ernesto, was a Swiss-born cyclist who competed in the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, finishing ninth in the men’s track time trial. He ran a plumbing business and his mother, María Luisa, was a housewife.

While her parents encouraged her to take up sports, Ms Grobet traded gymnastics for dancing, which she described as her “initiation into the art”. After being bedridden with hepatitis and barred from entering the dance studio as a teenager, she began taking formal painting lessons, eventually studying with Mathias Goeritz and a surrealist photographer. Kati Horna at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico. She was also mentored by the artist Gilberto Aceves Navarro, for whom she worked as an assistant.

Ms Grobet largely stopped painting after her trip to Paris in 1968, when she “felt something burning inside me”, as she put it, and decided to visit new galleries instead of old ones. museums. There she discovered kinetic art, which moves or changes shape. She was inspired to create her first artistic “action,” an exhibition of psychedelic lights and projections for a concert by jazz pianist Juan José Catalayud that changed with her music.

When she returned to Mexico, she burned all her old drawings and paintings.

“I acted on impulse,” she explained, “and felt liberated afterwards.”

Ms. Grobet went on to mount interactive exhibits such as “Serendípiti” (“Serendipity”), in which the public walked through a maze filled with lights and false floors. For the 1975 performance “Hora y Media” (“One and a Half Hours”), she and artist Marcos Kurtycz transformed a gallery into a makeshift photo lab. Kurtycz took photos of Ms Grobet smashing a sheet of metallic paper stretched over a wooden frame.

“The enlarged photos were printed on paper without fixative,” according to the Hammer Museum in Los Angeleswho then displayed images of the work, “so that the displayed images disappeared when the gallery lights came on, suggesting the complex and tentative nature of visibility that women’s issues, women’s art , and even women themselves, as flesh-and-blood people rather than goddesses, had begun to have by this time in the public sphere.

Influenced by the radical Fluxus art movement, Ms. Grobet sought new ways to expand the field of photography. While studying at British art schools on a scholarship in the late 1970s, she took pictures of the local landscape, but only after painting rocks and other natural features with household paint. .

“Her teacher let her down and her neighbors in Derbyshire called the police,” according to the brooklyn museum, who acquired some of the photos. Undeterred, Ms. Grobet returned to Mexico and took pictures of the Michoacán and Oaxaca desert, photographing trees and cacti which she painted blue, chartreuse, red and yellow.

Ms. Grobet had her first solo exhibition in New York in 2005, at Bruce Silverstein Gallery. His work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, and the Fundación Cultural Televisa and Centro de la Imagen in Mexico City, among other institutions.

Survivors include four children from her marriage to Xavier Pérez Barba – Alejandra, Xavier, Ximena and Juan Cristóbal – as well as a sister, a brother and six grandchildren.

As she said, her marriage ended in divorce in part because she decided to go skydiving, fulfilling a childhood dream despite her husband’s objections. “I parachuted,” she told Abelleyra, “and it led to a family dispute. But it gave me an understanding of time, space and silence. The four or five minutes you are suspended in the air seems like an eternity; you feel liberated, freed from time and in complete silence.

She then unsuccessfully applied to become an astronaut.

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