Thursday, April 17, 2008

Assumptions of Frida

The Philadelphia Museum of Art has a great exhibit of Frida Kahlo until May. I wrote about Ms. Kahlo last September and it was extremely exciting to see her paintings in person. I had to refrain myself from caressing the canvas. Seeing her name, written sharply in the lower right corners just drew me in as much as the paintings themselves.

One interesting aspect I never knew about her work was the significance of painting the frames. She felt the subject of the painting was so powerful it could not be contained by a frame. For example, the frame for “A Few Small Nips” was stabbed with red paint and the clouds escaped from "Suicide of Dorothy Hale" onto the frame. The museum had displayed traditional Mexican spiritual and folk art, which were the inspiration for many of Kahlo’s works. She even adopted the Mexican tradition of oil on metal for many of her pieces.

I didn't know that she painted still life paintings (fruit, flower) in order to make money after her divorce. Obviously, her more painful and brutal paintings did not sell. This reminded me of the artists in Mumbai in front of Jehangir Art Gallery. They have bold, abstract and extraordinary pieces, which are their passion. However, they do Ganesha paintings because they know they can be sold.

As we walked out, my friend commented that it seemed like her life was so sad. Frida had painful recovery from an accident, miscarriages, a tumultuous marriage, and even isolation as she visited the US. I pointed out this is an assumption we make based on her paintings and other information. This was not Frida the person. After her husband had an affair with her sister, she did not paint for more than a year. When she did finally paint, of course it was going to be powerful exhibit of the jagged pills she swallowed.

When a life is rolled up into a 1-hour audio tour and gallery exhibit of photographs and paintings, one is intimate with just a part of the person. Kahlo paints self-portraits with her face unsmiling, doused with gravity. However, there were black and white photographs of Kahlo drinking from a bottle on a boat or simply seductive poses from experimental modeling. Her style of wearing traditional Mexican folk dresses and jewelry was more than a fashion statement, but a political one. It is hard to remember there was a lively, charming woman behind the flat paintings.

We all have assumptions in our own lives. When I was in college, I kept a journal. I didn’t have a lot of time to write, so usually wrote when I was emotionally charged (read: sad). After a few months, I browsed through old entries, reading them back to back. It was shocking! One would’ve thought I was depressed all the time! However, there were weeks and even months between entries. Obviously, those were happy moments, which didn’t call for me to write out my emotions.

This comes into play even when we communicate with people about our lives. We always hear stories from one side, not from the other people involved in an incident. We have to make assumptions to fill in the blanks.

Artists are fortunate of the lot. They leave their creative expressions behind, leaving bits of themselves immortal. Our lives are like pencil sketches, leaving others to fill in the colors for us and then view us the way they choose to see us.

1 comment:

wg2ww said...

Hi Ashini,

Happened upon your post when searching for images of Frida. Do you happen to know the source of this photo? Glad you enjoyed your trip.