Who was this bohemian, evocative artist Frida Kahlo, and why has she risen to such posthumous media popularity and commercialisation, over the last decade?
Whether you’ve seen a ‘Frida lookalike’ flash mob in the USA, posters of her self-portraits or even tacky fridge magnets in discount stores, the Mexican born artist may either be on the brink of overexposure or held up as a feminist icon who was ahead of her time.
On a recent trip to Mexico City, a visit to the Kahlo family home was a must. Not just a visit to a talented and maybe somewhat eccentric artist’s studio but also to understand if the hype and frenzy taking the world were just indeed just a trend.
Frida was born in this hacienda and was also to die here. Both home and studio, to say this modernist cultural landmark building takes your breath away is an understatement. Differing completely from anything in the neighbourhood, it’s not hard to find the Studio Museum and any taxi driver worth their weight in gold knows the way.
Arriving early in the small town of Coyoacán and being something of a ‘wannabe’ artist myself, the moment I took my place amongst the 100 or so other visitors lining the adobe cobalt blue walls, I was entranced by the two-story home that holds not just Frida’s work but also that of the great muralist Diego Rivera who it has been well documented as her on-again, off- again, lover and husband.
The thick blue walls belie the stunning interior which maintains the cobalt colour on the inside but is mixed with courtyards abundant with lush green plants and the subtle sounds of fountains. A sprinkling of Kahlo and Rivera sculptors, many of which are skeletons standing or hang randomly throughout the property.
Entry into the interior part of the home is one way directed by guides. The pace is slow but there is so much to absorb even as you move towards the entrance. Handmade plaques, mosaic pots and the hypnotic tiered pyramid that is lined with cactus and succulents.
The home represents the daily life of Frida with many of her personal belongings on display such as her illustrated diary, a collection of letters, brushes, pigments, easels, photographs and her stunning signature collection of Hispanic jewellery. Seeing a wheelchair pulled up close to an easel is a reminder of the daily pain Frida endured after afflicted with polio at age six and then a bus accident at 18, leaving her with permanent and painful lifelong injuries.
Inside are small parlours that are known to have entertained famous people of the time such as Nelson Rockefeller, Sergei Eisenstein, George Gershwin and even Leon Trotsky who lived as a guest within the Kahlo/Rivera walls after being exiled from Russia and ended up moving to Mexico in 1937.
The curators of this museum do a superb job maintaining the authenticity of the era and the grounds are kept in immaculately manicured. There are plenty of small green spaces where you can slide onto a comfortable bench and soak in everything that seems suspended at the time of Kahlo’s death in 1954.
Leaving the Museum, I was pleasantly surprised that there was no gift shop or retail outlet, which for me maintained its legitimacy as a collection of someone’s creative life and not a place for merchandise. However, you can cross the road to a market and find a limited array of items such as Frida nail polish, Frida tote bags, Frida painted beach stones and so on.
Interestingly, in all my time in Mexico, the body of Frida’s work was rarely represented in shop windows or stores. Rather, you are inundated with the now even more currently popular ‘day of the dead’ souvenirs which confronts you at every corner.
Perhaps the Mexican’s honour the legacy of Frida by not over commercialising her work in their own country. For me, this shows that for an artist you used symbolism in her work, she has, in fact, become a symbol of a great woman herself.
Frida’s most poignant message of all was embroidered on a pillow which to this day still lays on her bed. It merely says “Do not forget me, my love’.
Frida you will never be forgotten.
As printed in the Warrandyte Diary January 2019 (pages 26 & 27) which you can view here.
Now it’s your turn.
Have your visited an artist’s studio and been in awe of the body of their work, their life, how they were / are so creative?
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