Lourdes Grobet, the multifaceted Mexican artist who immortalized lucha libre legends with her camera lens, has died at 81.
Over four decades, she carried out experiments in video, performance, and photography that explored the social reality of Mexico’s working class of the 20th century. Her most lauded images feature heroes and villains of the spectacular sport of lucha libre in humble settings: beside the stovetop, retouching makeup, or nursing children.
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Over the weekend fellow artists and fans from Mexico and beyond praised Grobet’s curious, rebellious vein of photography. “She leaves behind an extraordinary body of work about social class and gender in her country, Cuban-American artist Coco Fusco wrote on Twitter. “Her portraits of luchadores are absolutely unforgettable. Farewell and thank you, dear Lourdes.”
Lourdes Grobet was born in 1940 in Mexico City to a Swiss-Mexican family. She studied plastic arts at the Universidad Iberoámericana under members of Mexico’s avant-garde, including Mathias Goeritz, Gilberto Aceves Navarro, and Katy Horna.
“The teachers that most influenced me early on,” Grobet later said, “were Mathias, Gilberto and El Santo – The Man in the Silver Mask,” one of the most iconic luchadores. As a student, Grobet sought to expand her practice past painting and, with the encouragement of her teachers, she left Mexico in 1968 to further her education in France.
She found that the immediacy and communicative aspects of photography suited her pursuits. “Looking around, and after asking myself the inevitable questions about what art is, it became clear that for me it was a language, a way of saying things, and so I had to find the best way of saying them,” she told Angélica Abelleyra in 2005.
Grobet returned to Mexico City in the 1970s and found a rising fascist movement based on anti-communist sentiment and so-called traditional Christian values. Her first major outing was in 1970 at Galería Misrachi, where she presented the installation Serendípiti (Serendipity), a “maze of raised floors, lights, and mirrors,” according to the Hammer Museum, which audiences were invited to explore. Between 1973 and 1975, she presented two photo performances at Casa del Lago: A la mesa (To the table), a photomural of household appliances, and Hora y media (Hour and a half), in which she was photographed as she walked across a wooden frame and tore away the aluminum foil covering it.
She left Mexico again in 1977 to study photography at Cardiff School of Art and Design in Wales. Upon returning to Mexico City in the late 1970s she joined Proceso Pentágono, an artist collective which organized incisive public interventions and championed experimentation in response to social oppression, and became involved in the Consejo Mexicano de Fotografía, a newly established cultural institution dedicated to a promotion and innovation of photography in Mexico.
Grobet began chronicling lucha libre in the 1980s, demystifying star athletes without undercutting the uncanniness that sets them apart. Male and female wrestlers—which she called la doble lucha, or the two-way struggle—were photographed in intimate settings and even arranged as if for a mundane family portrait, but still disguised in fantastic costumes.
Her publications include 2005’s “Lucha Libre: Masked Superstars of Mexican Wrestling” and her images can be found in the collections of the Fundación Cultural Televisa and Centro de la Imagen in Mexico City; Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin; and Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, among elsewhere.