Homage to Frida Kahlo

Homage to Frida Kahlo


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Physically disabled, she used a wheel chair when need be. She

was openly bisexual and of Indigenous, Spanish, and Jewish

ancestry. An accomplished artist and a member of the communist

party she voiced her opinions often in demonstrations.



Homage to Frida Kahlo 1907 to 2007

 By Claire Carew

Frida Kahlo showing us all that suffering could not wither, nor sickness stale her infinite variety.

—Carlos Fuentes The Diary of Frida Kahlo.

I paint myself because I am alone. I am the subject I know best.—Frida Kahlo


A woman of strength and courage graced this earth and lives through her art and photographs today. That woman we know as Frida Kahlo.

Over 400 thousand people attended the exhibition Homage to Frida Kahlo at the Museo Palcio de Bellas Artes [Mexico City] from June to August 2007. The long lines of people waiting 2, 3 hours and up to 5 hours to enter Bellas Artes was history making and confirmed Frida’s rightful place as an artist of  great recognition. On the last day August 19th Bellas Artes extended its hour of closing to midnight and still people were turned away. Snaking, double and triple snaking around Bellas Artes and along city blocks we quietly waited, purchasing treats from vendors who constantly worked the lines beckoning us to eat a little and save our strength to view Frida’s work.

As a visual artist who is often globe trotting and gallery hopping; these were undeniably the longest lines I have seen anywhere for an art exhibition. Pablo Picasso and Vincent Van Gogh have not had lines like this. Art exhibitions do not often attract this many people.

Reflecting on this phenomenon I began to conduct informal interviews.  “Tell me why you like Frida’s work.  Why did you come”? The answers were often vague.  Some went to see her art work, others because they couldn’t get enough of her life story and some, because they heard so much about the exhibition from the media and knew it was history making, attended the show.

Ricardo and his wife Alejandra both lawyers were visiting the Bellas Artes for the first time even though they work within walking distance. They, like most people, are not gallery goers. “We came because we like her work and her life story.”

On entering Bellas Artes it was “stop and go” we slowly made our way to each painting each letter, each photograph with the reverence you would pay to someone who had just died.

We marched often silently reading the analysis by historians and art critics below each painting. On occasion tears flowed readily from the eyes of those who identified with her pain and her art.

With 65 well executed oil paintings, 45 drawings, water colors, and etchings; this retrospective clearly established that Frida Kahlo was a talented artist who understood the principles and elements of design, composition and had a thorough knowledge of oil painting techniques.

Taking a closer look at her biographical paintings I took note of the intricate details of her work.

For example in the painting Two Fridas 1939 the prominent display of the hearts speak of sacrifice and reminded one of the Aztecs sacrificing human beings. In many of her paintings the hands dance, gesture and direct the viewer’s eye to another aspect of the painting. 

One of the paintings that I was quite impressed is titled Autorretrato con medallion 1948. Self portrait with medallion. Frida painstakingly painted the intricate details of the lace head dress the folds of the fabric and the flowers and once again her eyes confront the viewer straight on. Her expression is serious.

There were also more than 50 letters and over 100 photographs of Frida that exemplified the depth and strength of this woman.  I don’t recall seeing any photos of Frida smiling. She was always serious and dressed in a dignified regal manner.  However there is one photo that showed the tenderness of the woman. It is a black and white photograph by Paul Juley of her sitting with her shoulders revealed.

She commanded respect and ensured that we the public took her seriously and learned of the various groups of indigenous people living in Mexico by the type of clothing she chose to wear.

 Frida consciously decided against the norm of wearing sensuous frivolous uncomfortable clothing that so many women are encouraged and feel obliged to wear.

In a world of clear class distinctions, arrogance, race and often disparaging dismissal of all that is Indigenous, Frida stood and continues to stand  above all in demonstrating her love and respect for the Indigenous peoples of Mexico. 

Her forthrightness, strength and portrayal of herself proudly dressed in indigenous traditional clothing were truly a statement of courage. Not too many would risk the ridicule and the stares she faced in Mexico, USA and France as she walked down the street wearing colorful indigenous clothing distinctly different from European style of dress.

Frida Kahlo suffered a terrible bus accident as a teenager that resulted in over 32 operations and her inability to conceive children. She lived a tumultuous life with Diego Rivera the famous muralist and they were married twice. Frida Kahlo appeals to many of us as her life and art represents the diverse people we are today.

Physically disabled, she used a wheel chair when need be. She was openly bisexual and of Indigenous, Spanish, and Jewish ancestry.  An accomplished artist and a member of the communist party she voiced her opinions often in demonstrations. One of her last photographed public demonstrations was in support of the people of Guatemala.

Today she would be considered an environmentalist as her work often depicts landscapes animals and flowers. Her emotional and physical pain many of us know of personally. She gives meaning to our vulnerabilities.   Her struggles are ours, her beliefs and values we share and support.

Long Live Frida is indeed true. She continues to live in the hearts and minds of many people.  She is a part of us and will continue to live as long as we continue to identify with her trials and triumphs. Frida the artist. Frida the communist.  Frida the feminist. Frida the naturalist.

Frida we will never forget you.

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photo top left–Claire Carew and her Cuban translator.

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posted 6 December 2007




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