Writer Carlos Monsiváis penned a text dedicated to Frida Kahlo on the centenary of her birth in 2007, presented here by the Museo del Estanquillo.
Here, life and work are one and the same. Her works are a detailed autobiography into which she pours her strictly real desperation and anguish, with a form devotional in its own way: a testimonial, a naturalistic fantasy (take it or leave it), allegorical and simple to the point of baroque overflow. And, in its own way, the agony within her work serves as an aesthetic criterion: the alchemy of suffering also engenders beauty.
Have we now seen too much of this great artist; this symbol of moral dissidence and political radicalism who paints the fruits of the earth and physiology, and pours her dreams and suffering into her self-portraits, the darings of the cosmic couple, and scenes in which funerary elements are part of the everyday chaos? Of course we have, and yet apparently we have not, because Frida's "resurrections" break down any sense of repetition. Whatever anyone may say, images of Frida can be found everywhere in the deluge of biographies, book and magazine covers, calendars, dolls, puppets, plays, films, television programs, T-shirts, postcards, paintings that include nods to her works, postmodern analyses, adoring declarations from Madonna ("Frida is the greatest inspiration of my life"), overwhelming auction sale prices... the list goes on. Frida is adopted by feminists all over the world, Mexican-Americans, visitors and tourists to iconic sites, and supporters of unique personalities in this era of mass reproduction. She is also an exceptional reminder of the way in which art becomes secularized.
While Frida lived an extreme existence, at war with a physicality she so dearly loved, her medical friends offered her a third formative and didactic space: the daily difference between life and death. For hours and hours, between her worsening circulatory problems, surgery on her right foot and spine, amputations, and grafts, Frida experienced the most mortifying delirium, often unable to tell whether she was awake or in a nightmare. The painting that depicts her next to the portrait of her friend Dr. Farill encapsulates this devastating experience. The palette that she uses is her own heart, and her paintbrushes resemble bloody scalpels: obvious symbols that are transformed by their sincerity. The doctor, looking out from the serenity of the painting, is her protector. Their friendly relationship does not mitigate her pain but does make it fathomable on some level.
Aged 42 and with apparently limitless fame, the controversial, rotund, and ubiquitous Diego was a leading inspiration in the "Mexican Renaissance." He attracted journalists and tourists, as well as the (admiring) phobia of the bourgeoisie, who associated communism with unspeakable practices and reprehensible outcomes. Rivera returned triumphant from Europe, painted murals in the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria building, declared himself a Bolshevik (even worse than a revolutionary peasant), and reclaimed the aggressive grandeur of the revolution for the art of painting. Diego brimmed with anecdotes and politics; he was contentious and often made the news with his murals, easel paintings, lies, celebrity relationships, and scandals around his work, life, and his love for scandal.
Diego's limelight was not the result of him seeking out publicity, but rather something simpler and yet more complex: the certainty that he was center stage—because that is what he was missing. His carefree nature drew attention to him wherever he went, and made waves abroad as well. He accepted having a crowd around him because discretion and secrecy were impossible for him. Even without Diego's extreme lack of privacy, Frida was, in her own right, a notorious symbol of the relatively small capital city of this supposedly new country. Her characteristics were unique: an invalid who created a swarm of movement around her; a painter whose work enticed without aesthetic approaches getting in the way; a woman radicalized by feelings and intuition; a nationalist who planted her patriotic sentiments firmly in a utopia; a woman with a traditional appearance and wildly unorthodox habits.
Through her attire, Frida made herself a veritable proclamation with the "dolphin colors" of her petticoats, her traditional Huipil ponchos adorned with golden thread, and her braids decorated in tribute to fantastical architecture with colored ribbons and earrings.
Through a simple, considered approach to the exuberance of her clothing, Frida wanted to make visible the national essence destroyed by modernity, giving back everyday meaning to a generational loyalty that cities no longer allowed.
She accumulated traditions all over her body, but tradition that is held up as a challenge is cut short and, devoid of the context that made it possible and necessary, it begins all over again.
In this flood of admiration, one thing was clear: the symbol of Frida was dazzlingly modern and relevant because it was not just about the paintings (although a lot of them have been reproduced) or about faith in socialism, the female condition, or love of a revered figure. It was about all of these.
At the height of Fridamania, Frida was a symbol of herself: a face in which you believe you have seen an apparition questioning its own miraculous origins; the coming together of paintbrushes and a love of life in the operating theatre. Frida refers to Frida, and this circular creation makes her unique. She is the statue of herself, her own daughter; the propagation of unique traits in an era of mass reproduction.
Her work and behavior, which society at the time (not the widest of circles) made a great commotion about, judging them to be sinful, came hand in hand with the artistic use of her persona. Diego painted Frida, an epic in her own right, into his murals. In "Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park," Frida is already part of Mexican history. And Frida's own self-portraits prove her longevity. Her reasoning could have been as follows: "I paint myself, therefore I exist. I paint myself so that time will respect me beyond my own suffering. I paint myself, and the paintings become my mirror, and the extension and metamorphosis of my image."
Obras realizadas por Teodoro Torres y Susana Navarro, Premio Nacional de Ciencias y Artes 2007
Texto: Carlos Monsiváis