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13 June 2007

It’s Frida Kahlo’s 100th birthday this year… I don’t think she was a very good artist, and certainly not a particularly Mexican one… but the tourists love her. I don’t think its the art:

The wife of muralist Diego Rivera, Kahlo is known as much for her outspoken style as for her intensely personal paintings. Her life has inspired several plays and films, including the 2002 movie “Frida,” starring Salma Hayek.Born in 1907, Kahlo was disabled in a bus crash and had polio as a child. She was openly bisexual and had an affair with Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky. Kahlo used her self-portraits to deal with the accident, her tumultuous marriage and her inability to have children.

To mark the anniversary, the Blue House, Kahlo’s Mexico City family home-turned-museum, will display nearly 300 pieces of clothing found more than two ago in a trunk in an unused bathroom.

I’ve always thought that art was independent of the artist’s biography. I appreciated José Clemente Orozco long before I knew the first thing about his life. Same with the other 20th century Mexican artists : O’Gorman and Siquieros … and even O’Higgins. Even the egomaniacal Diego Rivera only seldom dwelled on himself (and then, often as a joke). Post-Revolutionary Mexican art was a personal meditation on Mexico, not an exhibition of one’s personality.

Many of the best artists were political, but their politics wasn’t — like Kahlo’s — just painting a Hammer and Sickle on a canvas. If they were one with the masses (or, like Orozco, ambivalent about the masses), it was the masses they depicted. It was not themselves. Kahlo seemed to paint nothing but. If she was a Communist, she didn’t seem to know any of the masses (a friend of mine’s mother grew up next door to Rivera and Kahlo. As a kid, she remembers thinking Kahlo was a terrible snob and a mean lady… ok, Kahlo was handicapped, and had problems getting around… still, she wasn’t exactly one with the masses… or even the neighbors in bourgeois Coyoacán).

Ah well, why be churlish? Here’s to the birthday girl, and her forgotten laundry. There’s an exhibition at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, which has some very fine REAL artists’ works on the walls.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. 13 June 2007 8:57 am

    ok, i’m delurking a moment to point out in a very friendly way (hee hee) that you seem to not notice that all the artists you point to as as “good” are men and the artist you point to as “bad” is a woman.

    I agree, Kahlo has been over done big time–in feminists circles, I want to bang my head relentlessly against the wall when all the granola feminists start talking about their wombs and how frida was a womb sister–but at the same time–that doesn’t mean that frida didn’t speak to something incredible and powerful–she focused on female, even when mexican females were not something to focus on. look at each of those men you reference–can you honestly say that any of them investigates “female” on a level that is anywhere as complicated as frida? Why isn’t it considered political that a female artist rejects the patriarchal standards that that were required of her? why isn’t it considered political that women are no longer “the subject” in her painting–that they have an active and assertive space in her painting, unlike all of the male artists? Diego Rivera, for example, never has indigenous women confronting the viewer the way Frida does–he has painting after painting of them on their hands and knees working or on their knees pulling flowers together, or on their knees crying–but never directly confronting the viewer. And although the mestiza images he has women are better, they don’t carry the same confrontational look–they are beautiful, they are smiling and laughing, they sparkle in their intense beauty. and don’t get me wrong, I love diego–but his treatment of “feminine,” while beautiful, can not be denied is lacking.
    Frida forces the viewer to confront the mestiza female–the pain, the anger, the violence–all the ugly stuff that men don’t want to deal with. I think that’s incredibly political.

    I wonder how much the fact that most of those men you mention focus on “revolution” in terms that are very male centered and identified has to do with you liking them so much?

    anyway. i love your site. I just thought I would harrass you a little bit. 🙂

  2. 13 June 2007 11:32 am

    From you, such “harassment” is no harassment at all.
    You’re right that there are very few female artists of the Revolution. I was going to include Tina Modetti, but she was only an “off and on” Mexican.” O’Gorman did include TWO feminist pioneers in his “history of aviation” mural in the main lobby of Benito Juarez Airport. Front and center are Beryl Markham and Amelia Earhart, very much relevant to that 20th century “revolution”.


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