The exhibition presented by Parisian Galliera Museum until March 5, 2023 “Frida Kahlo, beyond appearances” brings together more than two hundred personal effects of the astonishing Mexican woman and artist, I named Magdalena Frida Carmen Kahlo Calderón.
Those belongings, sealed when the artist died in 1954, by her husband Diego Rivera and finally discovered in 2004, evoke the woman who only wanted to paint what she saw.
As a matter of fact, separating the woman from the artist in the case of Frida Kahlo is utterly futile, since her art is irrigated by her life, her sufferings, her loves and her convictions.
Transcendence has always been the motto of Frida Kahlo who had decided to live her life fully despite, well, everything. The fire in her eyes and her intense gaze tell nothing else and it’s probably the reason why her photographic portraits are so mesmerizing.
Confronted with poliomyelitis from the age of 6, the teenager maliciously baptized by her comrades “Frida the leg peg” is the victim at the age of 18 of a road accident which leaves her with an abdomen ripped by a metal bar.
The Accident, 1926
Bedridden for several months, the brilliant student who was destined to study medicine finds salvation in painting, thanks to the flying easel and mirror given by her mother on her convalescent bed.
She also finds salvation in the construction of her own identity and her strong opinions.
Her personal style, made of long skirts and traditional Mexican shirts, allows her to hide her infirmities as much as to affirm her attachment to Mexican traditions and communism of that time.
She paints her orthopedic corsets, as a way to snub fate who would have preferred to see her dead.
Self-portrait, 1953 – After the amputation of her leg, Frida draws a final self-portrait. Her amputated right leg is replaced by a stick, recalling the cruel childhood nickname “Frida peg leg” and the arrows evoke the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian
“Feet, why would I need them if I have wings to fly”, 1953. Frida’s right leg is amputated to save her life. She draws her feet like Jesus’ overlapping and nailed feet
She plays with the codes of femininity without being fooled by their social load. She is aware of her somewhat masculine features and has fun dressing up as a charming and troubling young man.
Frida wearing a man’s suit, 1926
She completely disavows the feminine codes of the time which would prefer her with no facial hair, two defined eyebrows, docile and at home.
Frida, circa 1926
She hates patriarchy and wants to be a painter in the same way as any man who would follow the same destiny.
However, she also knows the strength of her charisma and femininity and adorn herself with flowers, jewels and bright colors. She is strong, she is beautiful, her look says nothing but the desire to exist in all her integrity – outside of any social framework.
Frida quickly learned to strike a pose. Her first photographer was her father and in a certain way, Frida’s first medium of self-expression was photography. The serious expression and the intense look became constant features
Because, well, no social framework applies to Frida Kahlo. She lives in a permanent physical suffering, she is a woman-painter, she marries then divorces then remarries Diego Rivera, the great muralist painter of his time and forms with him a magnetic couple.
Wedding portrait, 1929
In San Francisco, 1931
She travels to the US and hates the overconsumption she sees there. She travels to France and hates the idea of being assimilated into a snobbish artistic movement which is then called surrealism.
She values her integrity and never lets herself get carried away. If she lets herself get carried away, it is for Cythera. She comes to seduce, at 20, the 41-year-old grand master who is Diego Rivera at the time. Although married, she subsequently has many love affairs, whether with Trotsky or with the wife of French painter André Breton.
Frida at 19, 1926, after the accident
Portrait of Lucha Maria, 1942
The “Resplandor” is a ceremonial headdress inspired by the radiant crowns of statues of the Virgin Mary
Frida with her niece and nephew. Against all odds, Frida will be pregnant several times. Her miscarriages will leave her in great despair
A dress inspired by Frida, by Jean-Paul Gaultier, 1998
A symbol of Mexican art during her lifetime, Frida Kahlo will have left 143 works, including 55 self-portraits. She will have changed her year of birth – 1907 – to 1910, not out of coquetry but so that it coincides with the year of the Mexican Revolution. She will have promoted her art in the same way as a male painter.
Her weaknesses will have been turned into strengths – by her will alone.
Under cover of a pulmonary embolism, she will probably have decided herself the time of her big departure, in 1954.
Frida, the death cheat.
January 6, 2023