Written By Nicole Borgenicht
Art Patron talks with Hilda Trujillo Soto of the Frida Kahlo Museum and Victoria Gerard of the Bowers Museum about the Famous Mexican Painter and Her Photographs
Internationally known for her self-portraits, Frida Kahlo has also been an icon for women in art history. Despite her outspoken political convictions, her heartbreaking albeit deep love for fellow artist Diego Rivera, and the anguish and pain that illness and accident inflicted upon her, she remained creative all the while. Now Frida Kahlo: Her Photos, which debuted in Mexico City at the Frida Kahlo Museum, explores the determination of this remarkable woman and artist.
“The origin of this curatorship was the publication of the book Frida Kahlo: Her Photos,” explains Kahlo Museum Director Hilda Trujillo Soto. “Experts from various parts of the world were invited to investigate different aspects of Frida’s life as revealed in the images from her photographic collection.” Each of the experts – Masayo Nonaka, Gaby Franger, Rainer Huhle, Laura González Flores, Mauricio Ortiz, James Oles, Horacio Fernández and Gerardo Estrada – wrote a section of the book, which was published by Editorial RM in Mexico.
Trujillo continues, “Mexican photo-graphy expert Pablo Ruiz Monasterio was hired to select the photographs to be included in the accompanying exhibition, which chronicles Frida’s daily and intimate life in works from the Kahlo Museum Archive.”
That archive consists of some 6500 images belonging to Kahlo that were found in a storage room in the home that she grew up in and later shared with husband Diego Rivera – and that later still became the Frida Kahlo Museum. Out of those thousands of images, 241 that explore the artist’s personal and artistic world were chosen for the exhibit. “These photos were for Frida a source of inspiration for several of her best-known works,” says Trujillo. “Likewise, she related to them ’as if they had life’ – writing on them, cutting them, doubling them and impulsively tearing them when she had conflicts with the people that appear in them.”
The romantic bond between Kahlo and Rivera was very strong, although Rivera’s frequent affairs are commonly reported to have grieved his wife. Interestingly, however, it was a lover of Kahlo’s who took one of Trujillo’s favorite photographs in the show!
According to the museum director, two images from the exhibition sum up the story of the artist’s life. The first is Frida in the Hospital, a photograph from the series “The Broken Body.” In this image, Trujillo explains, “Frida is coming out of surgery and despite this, she is able to pose coquettishly before the camera of Nickolas Murray, who was her lover at that time. Her strong attitude towards life together with the ability to love and enjoy each moment are reflected in this photograph and in the context that gave rise to it.” The other image is Guillermo Kahlo, in his Library. Here, “Frida’s father poses before the camera next to his bookseller. This image gives an account of her paternal model: a cultured, sensitive and liberal-minded man. Frida absorbed these qualities, becoming an intellectually restless woman attentive to the artistic, political and cultural events of her time.”
Her stunning paintings reveal Kahlo’s depth, her pride in her heritage and her talent for reality as well as fantasy. And while those works excel in such qualities as composition, contrast, color and “personality,” the photographs show her among her artistic peers and convey her determination to do her best.
“The most singular aspect of this exhibition,” Trujillo points out, “is that it reveals Frida Kahlo’s intimate world while explaining why she is regarded the way she is today. Her current recognition cannot be understood without knowing the antecedents of her life, who her friends were and how she built herself as an original, developing her talent in the effervescent artistic and intellectual environment of her time, in both Mexico and other capitals such as Paris and New York.”
The show covers aspects of Kahlo and Rivera’s life, Trujillo continues, “that had not been previously exposed through photographs. There had been exhibitions of the works of this Mexican couple, but not of images that account for their daily lives, their personal and political interests, their audacities and the nourishing environment that surrounded them. Although we knew that Diego and Frida were close friends with prominent artistic and intellectual figures such as Leon Trotsky, Henri Cartier-Bresson, André Breton, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Sergei Eisenstein, in this exhibition we see them documented in their daily lives. This is a great revelation for those who admire them and wish to preserve their legacy.”
Victoria Gerard, Curator of Collections and Special Exhibitions at Santa Ana’s Bowers Museum, has created a comprehensive program to accompany Frida Kahlo: Her Photos, including lectures, “Frida-inspired” art projects and coordinated events. “Frida Kahlo is a very relatable and inspirational figure who is loved by people across generations and cultural barriers,” she remarks. “I do hope that visitors are inspired by her personal struggles and successes to create something that is beautiful and meaningful to them.
“The thing I love most about this exhibition,” Gerard continues, “is that it reveals the different layers of Frida’s personality and life. She has become a larger-than-life figure, an icon, and viewing photographs that capture her in vulnerable moments and that preserve the images of those things and people that she loved best remind us of her complicated and wonderful humanity.
In essence, the exhibition’s photographs are art as imagery exploring the many cycles of Frida Kahlo’s life – the life of an artist endowed with timeless creativity.
Bowers Museum presents Frida Kahlo:
Her Photos from February 25 through
June 25, 2017. Visit www.bowers.org for
Banco de México Fiduciario en el Fideicomiso Museos Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo