Feet, what do I need them for if I have wings to fly?– Frida Kahlo
To know her is to love her, is to imitate, and possess her, just a little. A visionary of art, culture, feminism and independence, Frida Kahlo was a complex and compelling figure who is now the subject of an unusual bilingual exhibition at the compact Hudson River Museum (HRM) in Yonkers, NY, through May 22.
This is Frida as you have never seen her before: filtered through the prisms of 75 contemporary artists who have immersed themselves in her life, mythology, scoured her journals, and channeled her carefully cultivated persona through their own visions and mediums.
Kahlo’s work went unrecognized during her lifetime (1907-1954), but by the late 1970s, art historians and political activists had discovered her and that fascination continues.
Laura Vookle, Chair of HRM’s Curatorial Department, says: “We thought the art was striking and strong and we appreciated that the artists represented diverse backgrounds (White, African American, Latinx, Asian American, men, women, LGBTQ), including some international artists.”
Installed in the upper gallery is Frida Kahlo in Context/Frida Kahlo en contexto where visitors see Frida through the eyes of her friend and lover, the Hungarian-born photographer, Nickolas Muray. His black and white photos are considered some of the most intimate images of her and are juxtaposed with vibrant costumes of Oaxaca from the Ballet Folklorico Mexicano de Nueva York. Don’t miss Mexican muralist Diego Rivera’s painting in this section.
Displayed in the lower galleries is The World of Frida/El Mundo de Frida where some works are in homage to Kahlo’s self-portraits that highlight details of her life, such as her tumultuous marriage to Rivera, her physical traumas, her frustration at being unable to bear children. One gallery here is dedicated to her love of flowers, plants and animals.
Dominating one wall is Trying to be Frida, Brussels-based Emilio López-Menchero’s larger than life photo that transforms him into Frida. Mixing the familiar background with the unfamiliar face adds to the surprise. He writes: “… being an artist is a way of expressing your identity; it’s the act of constantly inventing yourself.”
Nearby is Razan Elbaba’s photo, Razan Kahlo, in which she wears a traditional hijab. Her series of self-portraits recreate those of determined, well-known women like Rosie the Riveter and Cleopatra, among others. By linking herself to heroic women, Elbaba states, “Although we may appear different, we all possess the same inherent strength and value.”
Similarly, Kahlo’s work caught Atsuko Morita’s attention the moment she saw her first paintings. Through a chromogenic darkroom print, Morita recreates Kahlo’s portrait in her own likeness in Self-Portrait as Frida Kahlo.
Among the most striking pieces is Barbara Johansen Newman’s acrylic on wood, All this Madness. The wooden forehead ablaze with her famous thick bat-like eyebrows with giant eyes bears a portrait of Rivera on her forehead, as a nod to Kahlo’s self-portrait, Diego on My Mind.
The title for Newman’s piece was inspired by a letter Kahlo wrote in her journal to Rivera: “All this madness, if I asked it of you, I know, in your silence, there would be only confusion.”
Of her appliqué and embroidery piece, Larger than Life (Frida Kahlo), Kerstin Bruchhäuser of Hamburg, Germany says this piece was inspired by Toni Frissell’s photo of Kahlo that appeared in American Vogue in 1937.
Bruchhäuser transferred Kahlo’s image onto cotton and silk, leather and linen – materials Kahlo used for her wardrobe to hide the body brace, casts and prosthetic limb she wore after her right leg was amputated in 1953. Of this trauma, Kahlo wrote in her diary, “Feet, what do I need them for if I have wings to fly?”
Shannon Taylor whose work Frida, Sky & Earth is installed among the flora and fauna group, writes, “To think of Frida Kahlo is to imagine something lovely, wild and broken; someone made more beautiful by damage.” Adjacent is Francisco Franco’s Deer Frida’s Martyrdom depicting a deer with the head of Frida Kahlo highlighting both immortality and fragility.
One wonders if Kahlo could ever have imagined her life would have electrified so many imaginations, and given birth to a global family that never tires of reinterpreting and revisiting her legacy.
As Taylor writes, “… her [Kahlo’s] relationship to the feminine, her culture and to survival, carved altars on the hearts of every woman, artist and kindred spirit who has seen her work.”
If the opening weekend’s visitor count of some 550 visitors – close to pre-pandemic opening weekends – the show could very well attract record numbers. “We can’t wait for our audiences to experience the wonder and empathy of Frida for themselves at these exhibitions’ only New York venue, adds Vookles.
Open Thursday through Sunday, 12-5 pm
Immersion Experience at HRM
Described as a small, local museum, the HRM provides visitors with an immersion experience through its many workshops, tours and presentations.
Family Studio: Dazzling Icons, Saturdays & Sundays in February, 1-4pm: Mixed-Media Portraiture workshop inspired by Frida Kahlo’s practice of immortalizing her loved ones through her paintings, visitors are encouraged to create “shimmering” self-portraits, or portraits of friends or family, through collage technique.
Family Studio: Threading Stories, Saturdays & Sundays in March, 1–4pm: Celebrate Women’s History Month with Teaching Artist-in-Residence David Enriquez, who leads a mixed-media workshop inspired by huipiles, a traditional, loose-fitting blouse crafted in Tehuantepec, Mexico, by women and muxes, or third-gender individuals.
Vanishing Portraits, Saturdays & Sundays, April 2–May 1: Learn one of many printing methods inspired by Frida Kahlo’s double self-portraits, which represent the complexity of human emotion. Create a self-portrait in two prints through monotype printing, doubling, contrast, and color.
Mariachi: Music from Mexico, Sunday, February 27, 3–4pm: Live mariachi performance in the galleries, surrounded by The World of Frida. The Mariachi Citlalli are third-generation performers who have been celebrating Mexican culture through their music with audiences throughout the metropolitan area since 2000.
Docent Tour of The World of Frida and Frida Kahlo in Context, Sunday, March 6, 1pm: An interactive tour with an HRM Docent.
Monotypes: Celebrating Mexican Women Artists, Saturday, March 12, 1-3pm with David Enriquez in a printmaking workshop focused on linework and color.
Frida’s Huipil: Art Workshop with Andrea Arroyo, Sunday, March 20, 1–3pm
award-winning, contemporary artist Andrea Arroyo leads a hands-on workshop to create a mixed-media work in the shape of a huipil, a traditional, loose-fitting blouse from Mexico, using cut paper, collage, fabric, ribbon, beads, and other adornments.
Understanding the Art and Biography of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera (Virtual)
Wednesday, March 30, 7pm: Hilda Trujillo, former Director of the Diego Rivera-Anahuacalli Museum and the Frida Kahlo Casa Azul Museum, will give a lecture from Mexico City about the artist Frida Kahlo.
Fiesta de Frida/Festival from Frida Kahlo’s Cookbook, Sunday, April 10 (Rain date: Sunday, April 24.) HRM is inviting local Mexican restaurants to bring their Frida-inspired dishes for visitors to taste, after which the visitors can take home their favorite recipe, and purchase a serving of each restaurant’s house specialty (recipes will be available in English and Spanish). Guadalupe Rivera, Diego Rivera’s daughter from his first marriage, and author Marie-Pierre Cole published a compilation of Kahlo’s recipes in Frida’s Fiestas: Recipes and Reminiscences of Life with Frida Kahlo that will be available in the Museum Shop.
Frida’s Flowers! Sunday, April 24, 1-3pm: Features a gallery walk with a local horticulturist/botanist to point out the science and iconography of the flowers and foliage in the works on view, with special attention to Diego Rivera’s La ofrenda and photographs in Frida Kahlo in Context as well as the floral motifs found in The World of Frida.
Chisme Con Chocolate (Gossip with Chocolate), Saturday, May 21, 1–3pm based on an old tradition of women gathering on Saturday mornings over chocolate, and chilaquiles to gossip; visitors will be invited to a demonstration (and tasting) of how traditional Mexican hot chocolate is made using a molenillo.