Pondering Frida Kahlo and the Latin American Muse
A new exhibition at St. Petersburg’s Dali Museum juxtaposes two artists of Spanish ancestry who grew up on opposite sides of the Atlantic amidst different circumstances, but share in common one essential aspect: compelling personal narratives, denoted by dreamlike memories, intriguing symbolism and vivid biographical elements.
On Saturday, December 17, the museum devoted to Spain’s most famous surrealist will spotlight on Frida Kahlo, the art world’s most celebrated Mexican female and proto-selfie connoisseur. Frida Kahlo at The Dalí – an exhibit of Paintings, Drawings & Photographs will run through April 17.
The exhibit will feature a collection of more than 60 works, including 15 paintings, seven drawings and several personal photos. A first for the museum, the display will extend outdoors into the Avant Garden amidst a special collection of flowers and plants representative of those in Kahlo’s own garden at Casa Azul, her home in Mexico.
Kahlo’s activist spirit lives on In Mexico and around the world. As with her works and the murals and paintings of husband Diego Rivera, art has brought and continues to bring attention to the struggles of the disenfranchised.
In Mexico, the victims of the Iguala student disappearance have found a voice in the 43 Artist Group, who are painting portraits of the missing students — a daring project in a hostile political climate.
According to CNN, the number 43 and decorated faces were broadcast around the world. One mask in particular caught the world’s attention: a deathly face whose teeth spelled “Ayotzinapa,” the city in Guerrero, the hometown of the students.
If oppression by way of immigration policies and law enforcement is imminent in the United States, it’s worthwhile, more than ever, to explore who will be the Latin American artistic voices of Hispanic immigrants in our own community.
Mexicans’ cultural influence locally has already been undeniable, from the tiendas and restaurants in Clearwater’s Gateway area to the neighborhoods of Town N Country to the groves of Wimauma. With a 71 percent rise (and increasing) bump in population of Hispanics from all nations in Pinellas County, our Latin population has become increasingly diverse.
Kahlo is a reference point from a historical perspective. Her fierceness and refusal to back down holds particular relevance today amidst talk of a “wall” and deportation. Her works tap into this collective consciousness.
Revisiting Kahlo’s works through the lens of our broader 21st century vision, we appreciate more her fierce individualism, her activism as well as her ability to channel her painful struggles into her works with poetic and stirring imagery. Born in 1907, Kahlo began painting after a debilitating bus accident in her teens, which brought on agonizing pain that worsened until she died at age 47. Kahlo said of the horrific incident: “The handrail pierced me as the sword pierces the bull.”
Kahlo’s injuries didn’t stop her from living full tilt. Besides being a communist, Kahlo is also considered an important feminist. She didn’t hide behind a male figure. She loved liberally and was in touch with her innermost sexual desires while married, divorced and remarried to Rivera, and engaging in flings with Leon Trotsky and various women. Her candid imagery spoke to the struggle of a woman in patriarchal 20th Century Mexico.
“Frida Kahlo has become a symbol of integrity and creativity,” says curator Linda Friedman Ramirez, who collects Latin American and offers pieces up for sale through the Feathered Serpent Gallery. “No doubt she has been a leading influence on contemporary Latino and Chicano artists throughout the United States.”
Creative Pinellas asked Ramirez to recommend a local Latin American female artist who conveys the same fierce individualism.
“Locally, Ali Vasquez of St Petersburg is one such artist,” she says. Ali expresses her identity and life events through art in a manner similar to Kahlo.”
Vasquez, a St. Petersburg-based artist, hails from Los Angeles with strong ties to her El Salvadorian heritage. She studies at Creative Clay, a non-profit that provides instruction for artists born with mental and developmental challenges. Vasquez’s colorful designs have been featured in collective art shows at Creative Clay, and her first solo art show took place last year at Strands Of Sunshine on Central Avenue.
Largo resident and Mexican artist Aurora Heuple was born and raised in Mexico City, Mexico, where she studied architecture and education. Heuple incorporates her research into her works of oil, acrylic, Ink, pastel, clay and polymer clay. She has been inspired by Aztec and Maya mythology, philosophy, ancient astronomy, as well as memories created by the many ancient Native peoples of the Americas.
For more otherworldly, provocative works, look to Carlos Pons, originally from Guatemala. Born in Guatemala in 1989, Pons moved to the U.S. when he was 10 and grew up in a family of poets, musicians and visual artists.
As with many immigrant artists, feelings of displacement permeate Pons’ work.
Pons says the process of creating helps him sort through those feelings, and examples of works created during these instances can be seen in his solo show, Melancholic Human, at St. Petersburg’s Soft Water Studios.
A few blocks away, at The Dali, a series of programs will engage visitors in journaling, Mexican cooking, and gardening — some of Kahlo’s favorite pastimes.
“Kahlo has stirred huge public interest beyond the traditional art audience,” said Dali Museum Executive Director, Dr. Hank Hine. “Much like Dali, she constructed an eccentric identity through the iconography in her paintings and then dressed and carried herself as the personality she created in her art. Painting by painting, she becomes a heroic figure of struggle and perseverance.”
Frida Kahlo at The Dalí – an Exhibit of Paintings, Drawings & Photographs on Dec. 17 at the Dalí Museum on Sat., Dec. 17, 2016. Learn more here.