The continuous eyebrows, colourful Mexican clothing and the monkey on her shoulder. Mexican artist Frida Kahlo has become a global icon almost seventy years after her death. The Drents Museum in Assen brings together the two most important Frida Kahlo collections from Mexico: not only her art, but also personal items such as a leg prosthesis and her uneven shoes are now coming together.
Maybe Kahlos appearance is even more characteristic than her work. From her self-portraits, she looks at the visitor insidiously, the proud gaze bridged by the famous continuous eyebrow. “Frida Kahlo even added her continuous eyebrows with a black eye pencil in the showcase,” says curator Annemiek Rens.
In addition to works of art, personal belongings such as clothing, jewelry, medicine and medical devices can be seen as corsets. “At Kahlo, life and art are indistinguishable. Theyre overflowing.”
The Mexican Perla Labarthe is firmly about it: Frida Kahlo is an icon for her. As director of Museo Frida Kahlo in Mexico City, based in Frida Kahlos original residential house, she loaned much of the unique collection to the Drents Museum, which can be seen together with the collection of Museo Dolores Olmedo. She looks happy in Assen, happy that the collection is now on display in the Netherlands. “Kahlo was far ahead of her time and determined her own identity. She was self-taught and eager to learn.”
Child polio caused Kahlos one leg to be shorter and thinner than her other leg. At the age of 18 she was on a bus hit by a tram. An iron rod drilled right through her body and the damage was great. She underwent some thirty surgeries throughout her life, wore corsets and had a lot of pain throughout her life.
Yet one could argue that Kahlo, who was planning to become a doctor, would never have become the artist we know today without the accident. Glued to bed and limited in her movements, Frida began painting, at the recommendation of her father. He had a special ass designed and installed a mirror above her bed. Rens: “As a subject, she was always the closest and her own model herself. Moreover, art was a way to express her pain on the canvas. A famous self-portrait is “Self-portrait with Monkey.”
The choice to show her work to world-renowned artist Diego Rivera was life-defining. She married him within a year. Labarthe: “They encouraged each other to create interesting art. It was a rather intense couple.” Her health issues didnt stop Frida from having a turbulent love life.
The Broken Column
A key piece in Kahlos work is The Broken Column, where she portrays herself naked with one of those corsets and a broken column as the backbone. It hurts almost physically to watch it. Although curator Rens has been familiar with Kahlos work for many years, once this painting was in the room together with the conscious corset, she was very impressed.
“She literally exposes herself to us and shows that her spine and her body are crumbling. The tears flow down her cheeks and at the same time you see a very powerful person standing with an uneventful strong gaze. Its special how she combines her pain with strength.”
Often the powerful Frida Kahlo is labeled feminist, activist and queer as well, because she was known to have relationships with both men and women in addition to her marriage with her great love Diego Rivera. But thats how far program maker Cathelijne Blok doesnt want to go, “because we might label her properties from current affairs.”
Blok made a podcast about the artist, who was far ahead of her time as far as she is concerned, also in her choice of subject matter. “I find it extremely special that in the painting Henry Ford Hospital (1932) she paints so openly about her miscarriage and shares her pain.” Frida Kahlo had a wish for children, but a pregnancy would put her health at risk too much.
“It is of course idiotic that so many years after Fridas work there is still a taboo on topics such as abortion, miscarriages, wanting to get pregnant and who you fall for. With her art, Frida Kahlo has really fought to make that public.”
Perla Labarthe also doubts whether Frida Kahlo had called himself a feminist. “She was mainly trying to be herself, something you might call feminist. She decided what life she wanted to live. She was able to translate her physical limitations and pain into beautiful works of art. That power is still a great source of inspiration for many people.”
Viva la Frida! will be on display at the Drents Museum in Assen from 8 October.