I first fell in love with Frida Kahlo when Salma Hayek bravely revealed the artists signature unibrow in 2002’s Frida by acclaimed director Julie Taymor. The film showcases the artists life via a gripping, tumultuous, expressive and relatable biography.
When I heard that the Art Gallery of Ontario would be hosting a joint exhibition of Frida and Diego’s greatest works I was thrilled. Mexico is so proud of its Frida. I remember walking through contemporary galleries and boutique hotels in Playa Del Carmen which showcased pop art inspired by her. On my many strolls through the cobblestone streets of Merida I felt I better understood the back alleys, dazzling colours and Mayan motifs through Frida’s work which so perfectly captures the heart of Mexico.
The exhibition covers 17,000 square feet at the AGO and features more than 80 works on paper and paintings by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and more than 60 photographs of the couple, whose shared passion for each other and Mexico’s revolutionary culture during the 1920’s and 1930’s have made them Mexico’s most celebrated artists. Assembled from three distinguished Mexican private collections on Mexican art, the Museo Dolores Olmedo, Coleccion Gelman, and Galeria Arvil, the exhibition provides the opportunity to view almost one quarter of Kahlo’s entire body of work and a range of Rivera’s painting styles from his early cubist period and studies for his Mexican murals to his portraits and landscapes.
I invited my friend Rodney to join me. He recently moved to Toronto a month ago from his native Brisbane Australia and this would be his first visit to a Canadian Gallery. What a perfect exhibit to whisk yourself through!
I’ve always been fascinated by how people ingest art. An old woman peering over the glasses that sit nestled at the edge of her nose, a cute couple holding hands and chatting about their favorite portrait and the stream of school children who often create an unforgettable chatter and excitement in the space. During my visit to the exhibit I was hoping to capture a few of these magical moments.
The evolution of Diego’s work is intriguing but I have to admit I was most captivated by Frida’s telling portraits. One senses her struggle and pain through the many versions of “the self” she bravely reveals through her work. The exhibit ends with her death and somber portraits from her funeral. Her life seems to have been defined by her pain, perseverance and passion for politics. Her legacy is now defined by the icons and symbols she created that have inspired her nation and introduced a unique “empowered feminine identity” which artists and admirers still study and appreciate today.