The Art Gallery of NSW is currently holding an exhibition which features some of the works of Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera; two Mexican artists from the early 20th Century who were a hugely influential part of Mexico defining its national identity post-revolution, both externally and internally.
I’ve loved Frida Kahlo, both her art and her story, since I discovered her in my early 20’s, so there was no question that I'd be going to see this exhibition! My gorgeous son, Zac was also really keen to go to the exhibition (the apple didn't fall far from the tree!) and one of my sisters, Sammy, wanted to join us too. So we took the day off work and made the trip down to Sydney for the day. Frida & Diego exhibition in the morning, a break for lunch in the city, a wander through Hyde Park (with no shortage of Pokémon catching - we are all for Pokémon Go in this family!) then a sneaky trip to a fabric wholesalers in the afternoon - unbeknownst to Zac until we got there....sorry Zac! All in all, a pretty good way to spend a Wednesday.
It’s hard to pinpoint what it is that attracts me to Frida Kahlo, but there’s a kind of ‘magic’ around her that just draws you into her world and makes you want to be a part of it, despite her well-documented irritable temperament. I can only imagine what it would have been like to know her!
Kahlo is regarded as an introspective painter who paved the way for female artists and is lauded by feminists to this day for her work in celebrating the female form and the female experience. Kahlo is quoted as saying “I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality”. Her self-portraits are often considered autobiographical, and one might even say Kahlo was the predecessor of the modern-day selfie.! Of her 140 paintings, 55 are self portraits. Amongst her works you will find depictions of her 3-month hospitalisation as a result of a bus accident (which left her with serious injuries including a broken spinal column), her 3 miscarriages, and both her marriages to Diego Rivera (they divorced when she discovered he was having an affair with her younger sister, despite Kahlo’s own numerous extramarital affairs. They remarried one year later).
Frida paints her full-body cast while recovering in hospital from injuries sustained during a bus accident.
The exhibition has been curated beautifully and really brings the autobiographical nature of Kahlo’s works to the fore by creating a space that takes you on a chronological journey of her art, and includes a timeline throughout the exhibition with dates and details of what was happening in hers and Rivera’s lives at each point. More than just an art experience, it's also an education.
Self portrait with monkeys
Her passionate relationship with fellow artist and mentor Diego Rivera (who is also featured throughout the exhibition), comes through in many of her artworks. The exhibition also includes rare footage of the couple in which Frida’s adoration of Rivera is almost tangible. Despite this, and the knowledge that of the two she was by far the most frequently unfaithful, I walked away from the exhibition with the feeling that Frida may have sometimes felt her love for Rivera was almost a curse.
Frida Kahlo was, ultimately, the master of her own immaculate conception. “Frida is the only person I know who, by their own will, created their own life. She is the only person who gave birth to herself” - Mexican photographer Lola Alvarez Bravo. Bravo was a close friend of Kahlo’s and many of her photographs feature in this exhibition. Kahlo, despite being born in 1907, in later years gave her birth year as 1910, the year the Mexican Revolution began. It is presumed this was a deliberate choice made so that her “birth” would coincide with that of modern Mexico. And perhaps, this is where the ‘magic’ of Frida lies? She orchestrated her own identity by tying it inextricably to the birth of a new national identity. One that she both created yet was created by.
“Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera” from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection is on display at the Art Gallery of New South Wales until 9th October 2016. Tickets are available via the website http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/exhibitions/frida-kahlo-and-diego-rivera/
I absolutely loved my time at this exhibition and have every intention going back because it is just so much to take in all at once. This exhibition isn’t just about seeing original artwork, it’s about a cultural revolution that defined a nation and the people that influenced the definition of a new identity.
Self portrait with necklace