Dive into the Intimate Portrayal of Frida Kahlo at Bowers Museum
Frida Kahlo has long intrigued me for her evocative look, bohemian lifestyle and visceral paintings. I associated her with courage and true, raw artistry. I thought I knew her.
But who knew Frida collected 6,500 photographs throughout her storied lifetime? Pablo Ortiz Monasterio, a distinguished Mexican photographer and image historian, carefully curated 241 photographs from this collection to showcase the Kahlo family dynamics, tumultuous political climate and affairs that influenced Frida’s life and works in the Frida Kahlo: Her Photos Exhibit at Bowers Museum in Santa Ana now on display through June 25, 2017.
The first image of Frida sets the stage for an original and fresh look into the beloved artist. It is not a familiar photograph with flowers in her hair nor bejeweled with chunky turquoise. Her hair is down, she holds a cigarette and her body is relaxed and juxtaposed to the stately, almost rigid posture we often see. Mexican music playing in the background sets the mood. Large scrolls that shimmer with gold flecks describe the organization of photographs.
The first room features pictures of Frida’s family. Her father, Guillermo Kahlo, a German photographer worked for the Mexican government often photographed Frida, which is how she came by that penetrating gaze staring unabashedly into the camera and grave pose.
The PBS special, The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo, runs in a small theater and explains that although her family was well-off and Frida attended the best school in the country, no one escaped the violence or terror of the Mexican revolution that began when Frida was three and lasted ten years. After the war, the government commissioned public art depicting Mexico’s indigenous past. Diego Rivera rose to fame under this political umbrella and caught the fascination of Frida who like her fellow countrymen and women were caught up in the movement to celebrate their native culture.
In her 18th year, Frida was riding a bus that collided with train. She was bedridden for a year and endured a lifetime of surgeries and convalescence. Her father gave Frida paintbrushes to express herself. From this dark place of deepest pain, brokenness and loneliness Frida painted emotions we rarely address or allow to surface. To me she is like a candle that lights the way through a nightmare. Perhaps that is why she is so loved.
She persevered through her pain and loved fiercely including her unfaithful husband Diego Rivera who caused even deeper cuts. A quote on the wall reads, “There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the train the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.”
The final room, a collection of Frida’s affairs, was my favorite. Lipstick kisses mark where she kissed her friends and lovers. Sometimes she cut herself out of the photo and I wonder why? What was she feeling so deeply, alone in her big bed? Frida is quoted as saying “at the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can,” which reminds us all of the fortitude and courage we have, especially when we pursue life with wild abandon and wonderment.
“Feet, what do I need them for if I have wings to fly.” – Frida Kahlo
ALL IMAGES ARE COURTESY OF Banco de México Fiduciario en el Fideicomiso Museos Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo
Written by Jamie Wood