Ah, Frida. Patron saint of the punk, the revolutionary, the devil-may-care attitude. Worshiped and popularized and commercialized in ways that would no doubt amuse her.
You probably already know she suffered from polio as a child, and that as a teen, she was in a horrific bus accident in which she was impaled with a metal bar - a devastating injury that cause her problems for the rest of her life. You probably know her for her self-portraits, for her turbulent marriage to Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, for the ribbons in her hair and the ever-present cigarette dangling from her hand.
The ladies in front of me as we were herded into the Casa Azul at opening time knew none of that. They were American grannies of the loud variety. "Did she make these?" (Referring to the large, papier-mâché sculptures in the hall.) I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. "Oh, she had disabilities!" Do a little reading, gods. "Do you think this is watercolor?" It was clearly oil.
Thought it was funny that 'proper authorities' got mistranslated to 'competent authorities'.
For a few moments, I took pity, keeping in mind how I'd like people to treat my grandmother if I had one that was still living. I explained what tempera was to them, and also explained Ex Votos - which Frida collected, which was new to me, even if it made total sense. But then I remembered this was my vacation, not a school field trip, and raced ahead as the grannies continued to ask one another ridiculous questions.
To be honest, I think a lot of people (myself included) know less about Frida Kahlo than they imagine, because she was so complex and contradictory. While she undeniably stands for certain things, you can pick and choose aspects of her life and personality to focus on, giving her different meaning to different people.
Here are a few of the things Frida was:
She was a champion of Mexican tradition, while pushing gender and sexual roles. After recovering from polio, her father urged her to engage in sports. She occasionally dressed in men's clothing, and later, had affairs with women as well as men. However, she also dressed in traditional Mexican dresses and filled her pictures with symbolism about her ancestry and homeland. The first few rooms of the museum are filled with photos of her family and loves (her first boyfriend was kinda cute). Then you enter the house proper. The kitchen is very colonial Mexican, lots of beautiful pottery, glass, and wooden furniture. Plus, the names 'Frida' and 'Diego' and a dove traced out on the wall in tiny, doll-sized mugs.
Next was Diego's room at the end of his life, his overalls hung near the bed. Frida loved her artist husband fiercely, but divorced him for a year after learning he'd had an affair with her sister. Throughout their marriage, both carried on numerous affairs.
"Take a lover who looks at you like maybe you are magic."
Frida claimed her art reflected not her dreams or nightmares, but her reality. Her studio is a gorgeous, light, airy space. While she was living, she was typically thought of as a footnote to the more famous Rivera, who painted large, epic murals on the history of Mexico and was known world-wide. Her work began to become celebrated in its own right in the late 70s and early 80s, following several retrospectives.
Frida was an ardent and active communist. She was born three years before the Mexican revolution, but later fudged her birthdate to 1910 to be more closely associated with it. She and Diego hosted Trotsky after he fled to Mexico, and Frida had an affair with him. Frida and Diego later switched their support to Stalin - Trotsky was assassinated not long after, at his house a few blocks away. Frida participated in a demonstration against CIA intervention in Guatemala only a few days before her death.
"At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can."
Finally, you enter Frida's bedroom, passing another canopy bed with her death mask resting on it. In her bedroom is a cabinet full of dollhouse miniatures, which makes sense... interior worlds.
"I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best. "
Then you pass through into the large, gorgeous courtyard. Part of me was like, that's it? Clearly, the house was larger. I sat and watched a really good documentary for about 20 minutes. Learned some things, like Frida's love of self-portraiture probably came from her father, who was a photographer and took what is almost certainly the first male nude self-portrait in Mexico. I skipped out after Frida and Diego visited the US (a low point for Frida, as she suffered a miscarriage far from home), wanting to check to see what I'd missed.
"I tried to drown my sorrows in alcohol, but the bastards learned to swim."
I found the exhibit on her dresses - even more crowded than the house, but it made the tour feel more complete. I asked another tourist to take my picture by one of the blue courtyard walls, then visited the gift shop, where I bought some magnets, a mug, and a flying skeleton ornament. If I ever have my own tree, that's the sort of thing I want on it.
"I hope the end is joyful - and I hope never to return."
"I paint flowers so they will not die."