Mexico City is known for its art museums and in the month I was there, I visited many. My favorite was the Frida Kahlo Museum housed in La Casa Azul.
Frida Kahlo livid in La Casa Azul for most of her life, initially with her family and years later with the famous muralist Diego Rivera. On her request, he turned the house into a museum after her death in 1954. It is located in the lively neighborhood Coyoacán.
I was an admirer of Frida Kahlo’s paintings before coming to the museum, but I knew little about her life. The exhibit in La Casa Azul made me see her body of work in a new perspective.
Frida Kahlo suffered major injuries from a bus accident at the age of eighteen, which left her with chronic pain for the rest of her life. She gave up on her dream of becoming a doctor and chose to become an artist instead. Her pain found in a way into her art, her studio, and her extravagant wardrobe. She dressed not only to show her personality, but also to conceal her medical corsets and uneven gait.
As the young Frida Kahlo recuperated from the bus accident, her mother installed a mirror under the canopy of her bed, so she would always have something interesting to look at while lying on her back. Frida never removed it.
Does it explain why her most famous paintings are self-portraits?
On the same bed in the museum, now rests Frida Kahlo’s death mask.
When the artist Isamu Noguchi gave the older Frida Kahlo a collection of butterflies, she mounted them under the canopy of a second bed. After a visit to the museum, Patti Smith wrote a poem about Frida Kahlo and her butterflies.
Noguchi’s ButterfliesPatti Smith
I can not walk
I can not see
Further than what
Is in front of me
I lay on my back
yet I do not cry
Transported in space by the butterflies.
Above my bed
With the wings you sent
Within my sight
All pain dissolves
In another light
By the butterfly
This little song
Came to me
Like a little gift as I stood
Beside the bed of Frida.
I give it to you with much love,
Near the end of the visit, I had an unexpected and moving encounter: Here’s Frida and me, or rather, her ashes and me, or more precisely, my reflection in the mirror that hangs behind the urn that holds her ashes.
Frida Kahlo’s Paintings
There aren’t that many Frida Kahlo paintings in Casa Azul. Most of the work she created here is exhibited in museums around the world. But there are some excellent ones, of course, among which two self-portraits that express her physical suffering and the power doctors had over her body, a portrait of her father, and the last thing she painted before her death, the water melon slices that celebrate life.
Watching Frida Kahlo’s art and La Casa Azul, where she worked and lived, reading about her physical disabilities and how she dealt with them, has inspired me to be strong and unapologetic. This is me under the influence of Frida. Not a force like she was, but different than I usually am, more confident.
Visit the museum‘s website for more information.
In the Museo de Arte Moderno in another neighborhood of Mexico City, I stared at the painting below for a long time. It’s called The Two Fridas. In the closeup you can see Frida holding a childhood portrait of Diego.