“They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn't. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.”
The reality of Frida was a constant oppression from patriarchy, her husband and from her body which caused her constant inescapable pain. Frida Kahlo was the physical embodiment of a strong, independent, sexually empowered woman which is especially evident when juxtaposed to the context, Mexico, early-mid 1900’s.
For this reason, Frida Kahlo is my favourite artist and one of my feminist heroes. Knowing I’d be in Mexico City I made seeing her house, La Casa Azul (The blue house) my #1 priority.
During my time in Mexico City, I also visited the house/studio of Frida and Diego Rivera (the one with the bridge in between the two buildings) and Leon Trotsky’s house (Soviet Communist seeking political asylum in Mexico, friend and lover of Frida) complete with empty clothes and bullet holes.
To perhaps oversimplify the complex history of Mexico, I believe that it is people like Frida who have carved the way for women and men towards equality. She is a pioneer of feminism in Mexico and an excellent representation of Mexico’s beautiful and rich culture which is perpetuated in her paintings.
During my time in Mexico City, I discussed Frida Kahlo with a young Mexican man who disagreed with my opinion on her positive impact on modern Mexico. He slut-shamed her infidelities and same sex relationships using a word bank almost as colourful as her paintings. This was said while conveniently ignoring Diego’s infidelities and emotional abuse. The man I spoke to did not like that Frida was a national and global icon, an opinion he made abundantly clear. While macho attitudes towards women and men are still prevalent in Mexico (and globally), I found Mexico overall to be a delightfully progressive place. Overall the people that I met were friendly, intelligent and insightful.
I’ve always found it ironic that the pioneers of the arts are often lesser appreciated during their lives and are immortalised in death. Like many others, during Frida’s life she painted in the shadow of her husband Diego Rivera. Yet in death her paintings, political and cultural dispositions, lustrous affairs, and sexual empowerment were immortalised as an image of early 20th century Mexico.
In this way, I guess it was silly to be so shocked seeing Frida’s face printed everywhere in Mexico. Her image lay two dimensional and lifeless on tote bags, fridge magnets, chairs and tee shirts. Anything that you could possibly want, you could find with Frida’s face on it.
In my opinion, this was incredibly ironic. She was someone who was subjected to constant physical and emotional pain which is very evident in her work and arguably the biggest facet of her legacy.
Furthermore, after a trip to the USA she grew vehemently opposed to it's capitalistic nature, “I’ve learnt so much here and I’m more and more convinced it’s only through communism that we can become human”. She was someone repulsed by the unequal division of wealth, the rich and capitalism. A vocal communist with anti consumerist ideas. For this reason, I can’t help but feel sad at her desecrated image, the Frida fridge magnets, tees and totes, a sacrilege.
The line to La Casa Azul was an hour long and the entrance cost $15 USD. Bringing your camera cost extra. Each room of the house was decorated with her paintings (the most famous ones were not there though some were photographed) and the things she used to own. Her bed- a place she spent a large portion of her life- was memorialised in the house. It was crowded by spectators trying to get a look her mirror while imagining her body, her fragmented spine and uncrushed spirit occupying it. Frida’s backyard included an overpriced gift shop and cafe.
I was truely touched being there but struggled with the stifling amount of people (like any tourist site really). For anyone who likes Frida or her art, I highly recommend visiting La Casa Azul, the house of Frida's childhood.
Frida and Diego’s shared house/studio, while it’s cool to see (and free on Sundays) has little of Frida’s work but has a lot of Diego’s (which I enjoyed a lot more than I thought I would). Trotsky’s house, too is interesting to see and is just walking distance from La Casa Azul but it’s has very little to do with Frida or Diego.