Frida Kahlo: her battles that resonate beyond her art
By Samia Tawil10 novembre 2022
The ambitious exhibition "Frida Kahlo, beyond appearances", which opened at the Palais Galliera in Paris on September 15, has been a great success. The craze around Frida Kahlo touches all audiences, her feminist fights resonating well beyond her art. From fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier to the singer Rosalía, Frida Kahlo federates through an aura that seems to speak to all. Our analysis.
Why is there such a craze around Frida Kahlo? Is it her sincerity that shines through in her art, her personality or her claimed freedom? Frida Kahlo's influence on the world of fashion is well known: her legendary indigenous outfits have conquered many designers. But in addition to the aesthetic aspect, it is to the Zapotec culture of her mother that Frida Kahlo paid tribute through these clothes, and especially, to its matriarchal tradition. She constantly infused a feminist message throughout her life, as during her occasional appearances wearing a tuxedo: a boyish look which Karl Lagerfeld took up during his shoot for German Vogue in 2010 and where Claudia Schiffer slipped into the skin of Frida. Jean-Paul Gaultier's fascination with the corset led him to find inspiration in 1998 in the orthopedic corset that Frida Kahlo wore after her tragic accident, by glamorizing it. A tribute to the way Frida had to aesthetize the pain. He paid a final tribute to the painter, whom he also saw as a muse, during his farewell fashion show in January 2020.
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Luc Besson was also inspired by Frida Kahlo in his film The Fifth Element, dressing Milla Jovovich in a futuristic version of the same support corset, again signed by Jean-Paul Gaultier. Was it an unconscious nod to the idea of a woman of the future, an idea that Frida Kahlo already evoked in her time? A strong artist whose personal and socio-political struggles still resonate today, we learn to decipher and analyze her.
Frida Kahlo's voice was that of a fearless queer woman, disabled and of color; it's the voice we need to hear today
Circe Henestrosa, curator of the exhibition Frida Kahlo, Beyond Appearances
This is the intention of Circe Henestrosa, curator of the ambitious exhibition Frida Kahlo, Beyond Appearances: "Frida Kahlo's voice was that of a fearless queer woman, disabled and of color; it's the voice we need to hear today, and it's really the one I'm championing." The exhibition presents 200 objects that until then were almost exclusively displayed in the famous Casa Azul in Mexico City, where Frida Kahlo lived. In 2018, the exhibition Frida Kahlo Oltre il mito, at the MUDEC Museum in Milan, also invited us to go beyond the appeal of the "phenomenon" to observe the intimate.
These are approaches that aim at revealing the complexity of the artist's inner world, beyond the bright colors and flowery headdresses. And it is first of all through the pain that we reach the Palais Galliera, discovering the corsets that Frida Kahlo wore under her shimmering clothes. As if to show us the skeleton of a work of which she is not only the creator, but also the incarnation. Because while painting, Frida Kahlo created herself. Brought herself to life. And gave an unspoken lesson of resilience to those who want to read between the lines... And understand the passion in a watermelon, the political commitment in an agave cactus, or the defiance of an unbearable pain behind an impassive look, proudly crowned with her legendary unibrow.
2022: the year of Frida Kahlo?
These symbols, which contribute to the aesthetics of her art, have a profound meaning, and the MAAG Lichthalle in Zurich has paid tribute to them by hosting the world premiere of the immersive exhibition Viva Frida Kahlo from September 2021. The exhibition was so successful that it was extended by two months, ending in February 2022 with a total attendance of 120,000 visitors. Aurélie Perrod, in charge of communications at Opus One, tells us exclusively: "It so happens that we will be launching this exhibition in Lausanne at the end of the year. This has not yet been announced and we are waiting for some confirmation from Beaulieu. A great opportunity for the French-speaking world to discover the work of the artists' collective Projektil, which has clearly pursued the intention of telling the story with a small "h" behind the symbols. A way to democratize art intelligently, with awareness and modesty. Using the appeal of mapping, the designers offer a real analysis of the artist's work that becomes a gateway for the neophyte and moves the connoisseur to the core.
In the fall of 2021, the Fondation Beyeler, in its all-female exhibition "Close up", also put Frida Kahlo in the spotlight, accomplishing the feat of obtaining two originals, including the enigmatic "Self-portrait in a velvet dress". A Mona Lisa from another time that skyrocketed the attendance at the Basel Museum. So will 2022 be the year of Frida Kahlo? In Europe, at least. Because Latin America had not waited for the crowds to converge around magnificent exhibitions. The one organized in São Paolo and then in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 brought together some twenty paintings, which remains a feat for an artist whose originals are becoming increasingly rare. The recent auction record for the self-portrait "Diego and I", sold for $34.9 million at Sotheby's in New York, demonstrates the artist's exceptional value. This may explain the increasing use of alternative ways to make the artist known through objects or reproductions.
The poetry of Casa Azul
I would walk by Casa Azul every day. This helped to inspire me
Hilda Palafox, painter
The blue house on London Street in Mexico City's bucolic Coyoacán neighborhood has been a tourist attraction since its archives were opened to the public in 2007. Real estate prices have risen since then, reaching exorbitant values that could have deterred locals from staying in the neighborhood. Still, Coyoacán remains primarily inhabited by Mexicans. "My school was located in the heart of Coyoacán, I would walk by Casa Azul every day. This helped to inspire me," says painter Hilda Palafox. The artist Yanin Ruibal, weakened by Lyme disease, adds: "When I started to have to draw from my bed, I thought of Frida (...) Nothing stopped her". This is how Frida Kahlo became a palpable presence among her compatriots as well, transcending the status of historical figure to become the face of the present. And Casa Azul is the quintessential place for this presence. A sort of Mexican Majorelle Garden, a place of joy and pain, full of life despite its absence, and where the walls become vestiges of pain silently defied.
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