By Lauren Herber, Staff Writer
Frida Kahlo has long been an artist that I admire. Her paintings are raw and poignant, and many of them showcase a side of humanity that is painful but universal. Her work puts into color the feelings associated with isolation and loneliness, and her penchant for self-portraits emphasizes the importance and power of self-reflection. When I first heard two months ago that downtown Phoenix’s Heard Museum would be hosting an exhibit on Frida Kahlo, I was thrilled. I spent some time researching her life and work before seeing the exhibit, and the exhibit ended up being all that I had hoped for and more. The exhibit, titled “Frida Kahlo: Her Photos,” gives the viewer a unique peek into Frida’s private life. It consists of a collection of 240 images all taken from the La Casa Azul (The Blue House) in which Frida grew up. The photos give insight to what was most important to Frida, what inspired her, and what gave her comfort in her times of physical pain and isolation.
The exhibit is divided into six parts: The Origins; The Blue House; Politics, Revolutions and Diego; Her Broken Body; and Frida’s Loves and Photography. The first section, “The Origins,” is centered around Frida’s ancestors, mainly her father, with whom she had a close, affectionate relationship. Frida’s father, Guillermo Kahlo, was a professional photographer with German heritage. Her mother, Matilde Calderón, was of mixed Spanish and indigenous Mexican ancestry. Her father’s passion for photography contributed to Frida’s own passion for photography, especially with regards to the self-portrait. Her mixed heritage on her mother’s side later contributed to much of her work as she struggled to navigate her identity as a Spaniard, an indigenous Mexican, and a woman.
The “Blue House” segment of the exhibit features photographs from Frida’s childhood, ranging from photos of her father, mother, sister Cristina, herself, and her time at the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria in Mexico. The “Politics, Revolutions and Diego” portion of the exhibit focuses mainly on the development of her artistic career and her marriage to artist Diego Rivera, two elements of Frida’s life that were inextricably linked. Their volatile marriage began in 1929, and Diego’s encouragement is one of the largest reasons that Frida continued to paint throughout her life. Though their union was artistically brilliant, it was also highly dysfunctional. Both Frida and Diego had numerous extramarital affairs. Diego was known for his wandering eye and for frequently sleeping with his models, and he even engaged in a sexual relationship with Frida’s younger sister Cristina. Frida also had several affairs with both men and women. Some of her more notable lovers were Leon Trotsky, Josephine Baker, and Nickolas Muray. This segment of the exhibit highlights the toxicity of Frida and Diego’s marriage as well as their involvement with the Communist party.
“Her Broken Body” is one of the darker portions of the exhibit. When Frida was young, she was involved in a bus accident that resulted in numerous injuries, including a broken spine, a broken leg, and impalement by an iron rail. These injuries haunted her for the rest of her life. She was in a full-body cast for a significant period of time after the accident, and the constant time that she spent isolated and immobile is what initially prompted her to start painting. She had several miscarriages due to aftereffects of the accident and eventually had to have one of her legs amputated due to infection. Frida often suffered tremendous amounts of pain throughout her life as a result of the accident, a pain that infiltrates her work, making it bare, raw, and full of emotion.
The last segment of the exhibit, “Frida’s Loves and Photography,” features many photographs that were given to Frida as gifts from artists such as Man Ray, Nickolas Muray, and Tina Modotti. This chapter also demonstrates how Frida used photography as more than just a representation technique; she turned photography into a unique, personal art form. Many of the photographs in this segment have pieces cut out, drawings superimposed onto the image, or even kisses imprinted with lipstick. The photographs in this exhibit are deeply personal, giving the viewer an almost illicit peek into Frida’s thoughts and emotions.
The Heard Museum will be hosting the exhibit through February 8, 2016. Admission to the exhibit is included with the regular admission price of $18 ($7.50 for students with a valid I.D.). However, November’s First Friday (a cultural event highlighting local art and culture) is this Friday, November 6, and the museum will be open for free from 6-10 PM. You can also check out a culture pass at any of the ASU library locations, which will give you and a guest free admission to the Heard Museum. Just be sure to call in advance to make sure they still have culture passes for the museum of your choice on hand. Don’t miss this exquisite peek into one of modern art’s most brilliant, poignant minds.
For more information, visit http://heard.org/exhibits/frida-kahlo-her-photos/.