Feliz Cumpleaños, Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón
As a graduate student at San Francisco Art Institute, the murals of Diego Rivera are forever etched in my mind. Covering some of the old adobe walls at SFAI, they were a backdrop for those bizarre years from 1980 to 1982, which were spent studying Video and Performance (I think we were studying) and somehow chaotically working my way toward an MFA. Ever spinning, struggling and falling there (perhaps as a true art school experience should be), I never quite fell into the cult of his wife, Frida Kahlo, and only learned of her work in a far different arts environment.Today she would have celebrated her hundredth birthday.
What the Water Gave Me, 1938
Like her husband, Kahlo’s work is fascinating and curious. It has also become a pop culture icon, probably one of the worst/best fates a body of imagery can attain in contemporary culture. (Just ask Andy Warhol or Madonna).
In centennial celebration, there are dozens of articles in the press, various exhibits and a retrospective of her art work is on display at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, along with a collection of letters at her home, Casa Azul in Mexico City.
Probably my favorite in this whole July 6 media art buzz, is an article in the Chicago Sun Times by Esther J. Cepeda, which seems to capture the mood of the day most accurately. In part, it reads:
If you recognize the name at all, it’s because of the movie starring Mexican super-babe Salma Hayek.
Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderon, polio survivor, ultra-Communist, bisexual Mexican-born daughter of a Hungarian Jew and an indigenous Mexican, and trophy wife of famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, would have been 100 years old Friday. But the combination of the aftereffects of a crippling bus accident, hard drinking and dealing with a philandering husband did her in early.
Oh yeah — and she painted. Mostly vividly symbolic self-portraits, which tell the story of Mexico through the eyes of an intensely feminine feminist who, almost 53 years after her death, is still an icon up there with the Holy Virgin Mother of Guadalupe and the tri-colored flag.
You can find her image on earrings, T-shirts, refrigerator magnets and even purses. But the prize for funky Frida-lisciousness goes to those who practice Kahlo-ism: the worship of Kahlo as "the one true god."
Its tenets include resistance to conformity, creative artistic tendencies and sexy or unique clothing। An altar or shrine of Frida for solo daily prayer is de rigueur, but larger gatherings can convene at any party zone. Pilgrimages to her famously blue house in Coyoacan, Mexico, are strongly encouraged.
Broken Column, 1944
Despite what is has become, Kahlo’s art was altogether symbolist, expressionist and fraught with the influences of the day; surrealism. It was lovely, it was feminist; a true depiction of the times.
Doing the math, we know that she was born in 1907। She died at the age of 47 on 1954. It is said that she was ready to die, having lived in a torturous and inhospitable body for most of her life. I wonder how she would feel about the art legacy which has grown into a cult since her departure.
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