chromatomancer (chromatomancer) wrote,

Framing Kahlo (again)

Frida Kahlo's closet has been opened after more than fifty years. An exciting exhibit is the result, but the way some of the articles are framing the event ought to raise a few hackles. In contrast, in the film, curator Circe Henestrosa manages to talk about art, ethnicity, and disability, like a person instead of a media machine, thanks.

Quotes to consider, links to follow:
"Despite the disabilities, the monobrow, and the violent depictions of the female anatomy in some of her paintings, Frida Kahlo was a bit of a girlie girl." ABC
"Turns out that despite the pain Frida lived with her whole life and shared with the world through her paintings, she was also a bit of a fashionista." UNVN
"The exhibit is an eye-opener for those who only know Frida through the Salma Hayek movie and from the pained, monobrowed self portraits that you can find adorning college dorm rooms and handbags alike. " UNVN
"Frida used her clothes to hide her disabilities and to say something about her ethnicity." UNVN

I guess I object a bit to the notion of Kahlo's clothes being used to hide -- I think that through them she revealed something deeper, richer, and truer than the given facts. (Human/sartorial cyborgs -- the clothing is prosthetic and promise. . .) "Despite" the disabilities? I don't think that there is any "despite" there. I do agree that there was a reframing -- and that there is an element of "joy and happiness" as Henestrosa says, of pleasure in life.

I'm also averse to the idea that her disability, monobrow, and "the violent depictions of the female anatomy" in her paintings, are separate from and superfluous to her identity as a "girlie girl". (And I could examine all the cultural baggage that phrase implies -- fashion as lesser art etc.) It's as if the disability and the monobrow and the unacceptable truths are the things that separate us from her, because they are difficult, and the fashion permits us a "point of entry". They're trying to frame Frida as a girlfriend you'd be happy to flip through a copy of Vogue with. That might be true (who knows), but getting a chance to exhume her closet doesn't give us an opportunity to "domesticate" her, but instead ought to give us further insight into her day-to-day life, the dozens of incremental choices she made that served to shape the world around her. . . if it is domestic it is in the sense that it's the house that Kahlo built -- to be examined as an architect, a builder.

As to the "pained, monobrowed self portraits", really? First of all, this fashion is depicted in those very same pained, monobrowed self portraits. It is part and parcel of her self-framing, of her identity.

Yes, she became a style icon. But I think that's because people identified with her fierce, uncompromising vision of herself -- not just because she wore some pretty clothes and was a "fashionista". The fact that the exhibit is a collaboration between the museum and Vogue Mexico says a lot and may account for some of the framing -- but why should fashion and art be separate? How tiresome. I do think the exhibit is right to include "examples of how her style has influenced modern design" (ABC) -- she has been profoundly influential.

Also? That painted boot is awesome. I have almost no time right now to edit my response into something dignified, so this is a bit on the stream-of-consciousness side. But still, something I care very much about.

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