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“I paint myself because I am so often alone, and because I am the subject I know best.”
60 years since the death of one of the world’s most iconic, and immediately recognizable artists, Frida Kahlo’s legacy is being brought to life once more in 2014 through the medium of dance. The show makes up part of the Grec Festival; an international circus, music, theatre and dance festival in Barcelona, marking part of an effort to revive artistic heritage, a project led by Amèlia Boluda. The show is not a new phenomenon, and was performed previously some 21 years ago at the San José Arts Festival in Costa Rica, yet this contemporary interpretation sees the dancers themselves sharing the stage with the musicians, as they collectively narrate the story of one of the most talked about faces of the art world. But why should we bother celebrating the legacy left behind by the Mexican artist?
It is estimated that Kahlo completed around 140 paintings over the course of her lifetime, and 55 of these were self portraits. A bus accident in 1925 had left Frida with serious injuries, and she was haunted by relapses of intense pain her entire life. The complications associated with these injuries also left Frida unable to conceive, and this substantial physical and mental anguish is not elusive in her art. In Frida’s Self Portrait completed in 1948, Kahlo depicts her features as notably harsher, her expression is stern, and she appears trapped within the confines of the lace ruffle surrounding her face. Three tears rest upon her cheeks, and Kahlo herself described the painting as ‘an exact expression of her emotions’. Similarly frank portrayals of emotion can be found in The Two Fridas (1939) painted shortly after her divorce from husband Diego Rivera, and in The Wounded Deer (1946), in which Kahlo expresses a great sense of disappointment and frustration at her physical injuries. While it is doubtful Frida Kahlo ever set out to be a feminist, and labeling her as such seems to strip her work of its deep personal value, there is no doubting that such a candid representation of female emotion, the female form and condition to some extent gives a voice to specifically female struggles, in particular childbirth or loss, as depicted in Henry Ford Hospital (1932) or My Birth (1932).
Besides deep personal torment, Frida Kahlo also represented her heritage and perceptions of the Universe through her art; ideas which will remain pertinent for centuries to come. Most famously, in The Love Embrace of the Universe (1949) she depicts a complex arrangement of human and mythological beings and in doing so portrays a system of intricate dependencies. Central to the painting, Frida cradles Diego as a mother would cradle a child. The male in the painting, Diego, has the third eye of wisdom on his forehead, and these ideas of nurture and wisdom seem here mutually dependent. The Aztec Earth Mother cradles both Diego and Frida, who in turn is embraced by the Universal Mother. These references to ancient Mexican mythology are relevant on an international artistic landscape, and even within contemporary society, understanding other cultures or ancient traditions through the medium of art is important, and Frida certainly facilitates this.
Frida Kahlo is emblematic of strength and creativity, her expansive imagination evidenced in her array of art; often portraits, and often visual representations of her own internal conflict. It is perhaps this that sets Kahlo apart from other artists, and justifies her continued recognition. Not only is Frida’s legacy valuable for its demonstration of clear artistic talent, but there is an unquestionable rawness and honesty, particularly in her self portraits, which is unrivalled. While many artists, writers and performers use their art in order to transmit ideas and personal emotion, Frida quite literally becomes her art in her portraits, intrinsically connecting the pieces with the person behind them. Indeed, she was often quoted as saying that she did not paint dreams, but rather her ‘own reality’.