Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Diary of Frida Kahlo

Our BPYC Book Club thought we would combine a visit to the Art Gallery with a book.  The Kahlo-Diego Exhibition seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Of course, Frida Kahlo, being Mexican, wrote her diary in Spanish, a small detail we overlooked when we chose her Diary as the accompanying book. It actually didn't matter all that much, though, because there is an English introduction, as well as a translation of Spanish text next to curated thumbnails of images at the back of the book. The diary is also very visual, filled with sketches and automatic drawings. A picture speaks a thousand words, and this diary is full of images.

Frida Kahlo was more like a broken Cleopatra, hiding her tortured body, her shriveled leg, her broken foot, her orthopedic corsets, under the spectacular finery of the peasant women of Mexico... The laces, the ribbons, the skirts, the rustling petticoats, the braids, the moonlike headdresses opening up her face like the wings of a dark butterfly: Frida Kahlo, showing us all that suffering could not wither, nor sickness stale, her infinite variety. 
... How much more than this was in Kahlo... her Diary now shows us: her joy, her fun, her fantastic imagination.
~Introduction of The Diary, by Carlos Fuentes

Many of us chose to treat this month's selection as a multi-media project in the truest sense.

Annika wasn't able to make the book club meeting, but had done her homework and recommended a series of Kahlo documentaries on You Tube that explained her life and work. Others watched  the Selma Hayak film again. And several of us checked out the gallery exhibit together at a Members-Only gallery event.

The night of our discussion, Kaarina found some Frida Tequila and concocted a lovely libation garnished with sliced lemon, lime and orange.  Delicious!  Anne S. did Spanish coffee. We talked about our impressions of the diary, the art, Frida's life and celebrity as we snacked on potluck guacamole, dips, cheeses and chile.

Frida is not everyone's favourite, to be sure. Some in our group used words like narcissist, self-centred, and self indulgent. Others admitted the art itself was not very appealing to them personally and the Diary itself an odd collection.

Are you leaving? No. Broken Wings.

"I never painted dreams.  I painted my own reality."

Andre Breton, father of the surrealist movement, labeled her as such, although Kahlo herself resisted the definition. In fact, she developed a violent dislike for what she called "this bunch of cuckoo lunatic sons of bitches and surrealists" (Art History Archive).

In her diary pages, she takes a coloured pen and writes in the colour what it represents. Who knows if this page unlocks the code to her art or whether it was simply the passing feeling of the day.  She writes, yellow is "madness", green, a "good warm light", and magenta - "Aztec. old TLAPALI blood of prickly pear, the brightest and oldest colour of mole, of leaves becoming earth madness sickness fear."

Diego is everywhere in the pages of the diary and also in her art: at her side, in her lap, on her forehead, and even as a baby entering the world between her legs. Even when he is not there, he is there, like the painting that shows Frida shorn of her long hair, self-cut in desperation after Diego leaves her. That chair is yellow.

These two souls needed one another. They would fight and then forgive... Diego would return after he left... They would remarry after their divorce. There is a photograph taken of Diego next to Frida's death bed, the personification of grief. He would only live three more years without her at his side.

Diego... mirror of the night.. you were the one who captures colour.. I the one who gives colour... You are all the combinations of numbers. life.

Her paintings were full of so much pain. The self-portraits are unflattering. Many of the 70 self-portraits she painted were on display.

I have always admired the brave and unflinching gaze.

When Rob and I went to the Albright-Knox Gallery last year, he picked up a copy of this self-portrait for me because he knew I was a fan of Frida's work. The canvas is now part of the touring exhibit, and I got to see the original once again. I have a confession to make. As much as I admire Frida and her art, I find that piercing look hard to live with, so the copy that originally hung in the kitchen has found a less prominent home downstairs.

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