Moses and Mexico: Frida Kahlo

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Thursday's call for modern artist suggestions elicited a record number of comments (for "Feel Art Again," at least). We'll kick off our modern artists posts with Frida Kahlo, who was the most-requested artist with votes from readers Tommy, Gillian, Nerak, AMT, and lindsay m.

Next month will mark both the 101st anniversary of Frida Kahlo's birth and the 54th anniversary of her death. The Mexican artist, probably most well-known for her distinctive eyebrows, had a life full of suffering (including injuries, miscarriages, abortion, affairs, and heartbreak), which is reflected in most of her artwork. Some background on Kahlo and her painting, "Moses":

1. Frida Kahlo often told people she was born in 1910, 3 years after her actual birth, so that people would directly associate her with the Mexican Revolution that began in 1910. Kahlo became an embodiment of Mexican culture, especially indigenous culture, but she herself wasn't fully Mexican: her father was born Carl Wilhelm Kahlo in Germany, either of Jewish and Hungarian ancestry, as Frida claimed, or from a long line of German Lutherans, as some new research argues. Frida's mother, Matilde Calderón y Gonzalez, was of indigenous Mexican and Spanish descent.

2. Throughout her life, Frida Kahlo wore skirts to disguise her leg deformities. Polio at age 6 had left her right leg thinner than her left. Some scholars believe Kahlo also suffered from spina bifida. And, at age 18, Kahlo suffered 11 fractures in her right leg and a crushed and dislocated foot, among many other injuries, when her bus collided with a trolley car. She underwent as many as 35 operations over the course of her life as a result of the accident.

3. Although she grew up "surrounded by females" with several sisters, Kahlo became comfortable in male-dominated situations as well. As a child, she boxed, among playing other sports, and was one of only 35 girls in a class of 2,000 at the National Preparatory School, one of Mexico's premier schools, where she was enrolled in a pre-med program. While there, she also joined a gang and dated the gang's leader, Alejandro Gomez Arias.

4. Recuperation after the bus accident took over a year, during which time Kahlo gave up her pre-med program and began painting. Her father, an artist, lent her his oil pants and brushes, while her mom commissioned a special easel, so that Kahlo could paint in her hospital bed, and had a mirror placed in the canopy, enabling Kahlo's self-portraiture.

5. In 1939, the Louvre bought Kahlo's "The Frame," making it the first work by a 20th-century Mexican artist to be purchased by an internationally renowned museum. Despite such an accomplishment, Kahlo was still known for most of her life, and the 20th-century, as the wife of Diego Rivera, whom she married in 1929. Since the 1980s, though, Kahlo has been known for her own merit. Several biographies have been written and movies about her life have been made. Her former home, La Casa Azul, is now a museum. The largest exhibit ever of her paintings, held last summer for the 100th anniversary of her birth, broke all attendance records at Mexico's Museum of the Fine Arts Palace, although it was only open for 2 months. And, in 2006, Kahlo's "Roots" set an auction record for a Latin American work when it was sold for US$5.6 million.

6. Her complex 1945 painting, "Moses," presents the sun as "the centre of all religions." The top portion of the painting contains gods; the middle section is full of "heroes" like Alexander the Great, Martin Luther, Napoleon, and—most interestingly—Hitler, whom Kahlo called "the lost child." The bottom of the painting is filled with the masses and scenes relating to the process of evolution. In the middle is the infant Moses, with the third eye of wisdom. The painting was inspired by Sigmund Freud's Moses and Monotheism, which makes a link between Ancient Egyptian beliefs, Moses, and the origins of monotheistic religion.

A larger version of "Moses" is available here.

"˜Feel Art Again' appears every Tuesday and Thursday.

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June 10, 2008 - 10:05am
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