Celebrate Frida Kahlo’s Birthday: Between Art, Revolution, and Culture

Celebrate Frida Kahlo

Celebrate Frida Kahlo’s Birthday

July is the time of the year to celebrate Frida Kahlo’s birthday. “A female Che Guevara”, is how reporter Stephanie Mencimer describes the iconic Mexican female artist, Frida Kahlo. Mencimer compares Kahlo’s icon status to that of the Argentine Marxist Revolutionary, Ernesto “Che” Guevara. However, more than sharing the status of icons in popular culture and political philosophies, both Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Frida Kahlo share the struggle of having their intellectual ideologies subdued to popular culture. Frida Kahlo was indeed a revolutionary who defended her cultural Mexican heritage through both her colorful artworks and her traditional Mexican attire. Born to a German father and a mestiza mother, Frida Kahlo used fashion as a medium of expression through which she vividly portrayed her multicultural background. Kahlo would often represent herself in her paintings alternating between European and Mexican dresses.

Celebrate Frida Kahlo
“Frida Kahlo on a Bench” (1938) by Nickolas Muray Credit: Courtesy Nickolas Muray Photo Archives/The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of 20th Century Mexican Art and The Verge © CNN

Shortly after getting married to Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, the couple moved to the United States. Due to Rivera’s successful artistic career, the couple lived in cities such as San Francisco, Detroit, and New York. Despite their eventual return to Mexico, Frida Kahlo’s upcoming artistic career led her to travel again away from her home. As a result of being acquainted with the surrealist movement founder, André Breton with his help Kahlo managed to host her first solo exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York in 1938. Her immediate success followed with a subsequent exhibition the following year in Paris, where The Louvre museum purchased her work “The Frame” (1938) and made significant friendships such as Marc Chagall, Piet Mondrian, and Pablo Picasso.

Celebrate Frida Kahlo: Foreign Soil Under Her Feet, Mexico in Her Heart

Frida Kahlo, Self-portrait on the Borderline Between Mexico and the United States, 1932, Oil on metal, 12 1/2″ x 13 ¾” © Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

We celebrate Frida Kahlo with paintings such as her work “Self-Portrait on the Borderline Between Mexico and the United States” (1932). The painting vividly represents the psychological cultural crossroad upon which Frida Kahlo viewed herself during her first years living abroad in the United States with Diego Rivera after being recently married. The artist portrays herself at the borderline between the industrial, prosperous, yet mechanical and polluted cityscape of the United States. The America cityscape is contrasted with the agricultural and historic richness of the Mexican landscape, yet stricken with poverty. Kahlo stands in the middle of the two landscapes wearing a modern dress while holding a Mexican flag in her hand. It is noteworthy that the American flag is different in scale to the Mexican one, arguably symbolizing the prosperity of the United States in comparison to that of her homeland. Nevertheless, the Mexican flag though smaller in proportion is depicted as being personally held by the artist. The scene represents her never-ending love for her homeland despite her constant travels to countries with prosperous art markets.

Frida Kahlo, The Two Fridas (Las dos Fridas), 1939, oil on canvas, 67-11/16 x 67-11/16 inches © Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City.

Other paintings celebrate Frida Kahlo such as her iconic work “The Two Fridas” made in 1939. After divorcing Diego Rivera, the artist once again represents two figures holding hands, who are mirror images of one another except for their differing Mexican and European attires. Prior to marrying Rivera in 1929, Frida Kahlo enjoyed wearing the European dress of the era evidenced through the self-portrait figure on the left, representative of her European heritage. After marrying Rivera and their mutual involvement with the Mexican communist party, which romanticized Mexican indigenous communities, Frida Kahlo was encouraged by Rivera to wear her iconic traditional Mexican attire represented in the self-portrait on the right. Frida does not limit herself to depicting the multicultural duality in her identity. Instead, she links her traditional European and Mexican attires to her relationship with Diego Rivera, through the visceral representation of the bond expressed through a vein joining both figures. On one end, the Frida wearing the Mexican attire appears strong and filled with blood while holding Rivera’s portrait on one hand, and the hand of the European-dressed Frida with the other. On the other end, the Frida dressed in traditional European clothes appears with an exposed suffering heart which clamps down the figurative and literal tie to Rivera with a hemostat. Frida’s suffering brought by her literal and metaphorical rupture with Rivera is graphically represented in the spilling blood which runs and stains her white and gold-embroidered European dress.

Frida Kahlo: Popular Culture and The Fridamania

Taymor, Julie. Title Frida. Starred by Salma Hayek and Alfred Molina. August 29; United States: Miramax Films, 2002.

Art historian and cultural theorist, Oriana Baddeley reflects on the “Fridamania” present in popular culture today by stating, “In Kahlo’s case, there is the constant danger that the woman, not the artist becomes the focus of audience attention. Halloween costumes can evoke the appearance of Frida but not the artistic language of Kahlo (…) The cartoon characteristics of Fridamania so easily become a parody, obscuring the intelligence underpinning the work of one of the 20th century’s great artists. It remains important to remember that it was Kahlo who first created Frida.”

For the 111th birthday of one of the greatest artist in the history of art, we celebrate Frida Kahlo and commemorate not just artistic legacy but her revolutionary spirit evidenced through her works and her use of fashion as an expression of her ideologies and bicultural Euro-Mexican heritage. Frida Kahlo is endlessly featured throughout multiple documentaries, Hollywood movies, prints, postcards, runway shows, postcards, mugs, magnets and other memorabilia.

However, at Musart Boutique we’ve chosen to take time to celebrate Frida Kahlo and her legacy of meaning and intentionality behind her iconic uni-brow, her surreal painting, intimate self-portraits and fashion statements lavishly decorated with traditional Mexican iconography and embroidery as revolutionary assertions in favor of feminism, nationalism and cultural identity.

Join us and celebrate Frida Kahlo’s 111th birthday, one of the most quintessential Latin American artists.

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