My daughter and I attended the last day of the Frida Kahlo exhibit at the Portland Art Museum. Driving in was a lovely, cool June day, warm enough to smell the hot concrete on the ground but the recently rained on grass as well. I discovered Frida as a teenager, years before the Selma Hayek movie Frida was released. Growing up in a small town in rural New Mexico, no one except art and history nerds knew who she was really. I was fascinated by her connection to nature, her own pain, and revolutionary politics.
I had never really considered it before the exhibit, but Frida was also very much a fashion model and a thoughtful stylist in many ways. I think white liberals love her for her Indigenous, cultured and worldly aesthetics. But they tend to minimize her politics. Her face adorns countless tchotchke type goods.
My daughter and I appreciated that they also included the artistic ecosystem that Frida emerged, including Diego Rivera and the broader context of Mexican Modernists, including artwork by Manuel and Lola Álvarez Bravo, Miguel Covarrubias, Gunther Gerzso, María Izquierdo, Carlos Mérida, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Juan Soriano, Rufino Tamayo and others.
One thing I noted was how toned down her politics were presented. She was a communist and a revolutionary who joined the Mexican Communist Party in the 1927, which is how she connected to Diego Rivera. This was severely minimized, despite Frida’s life life commitment to communism and internationally known affair with Leon Trotsky.
The exhibit showed her early sketching to her mixing of Pre-Columbian and Catholic influences. I was curious how I would feel about seeing her work in person after seeing prints for years of my adult life. I was not disanointed. Her work was stirring though familiar.
Hundreds of people, many of whom had probably never been in art gallery visited. Of course, being Portland, Oregon most were white. People observed reverently and it reminded me in a positive way of a religious like awe for Frida. The large crowd size spoke to how deeply beloved Frida Kahlo is. She was truly the People’s Artist to the day.