Visiting Frida Kahlo | A Virtual Tour of The Blue House
In January 2020 one of my teachers invited me to travel with him and another fellow colleague to Mexico for a workshop that combines art and climate change. I immediately accepted the invitation and in less than two weeks I was waiting in a long queue in front of La Casa de Azul. (click here if you want to read the article that I wrote about the workshop).
The queue to enter the Frida Kahlo museum can be quite long, as only a specific number of visitors are permitted at a time.
After watching, reading, and imagining so many things about her life (I totally recommend The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo which was written after one of found notebooks named The Sacred Herbs where you will find the most delicious Mexican recipes of hers), stepping into her former house in Mexico City was really a dream come true. I never imagined myself there. The Blue House is where she lived for the majority of her life, where she was born, and where she died. It was the family house bought by her father in 1904 and then extended by Diego Rivera. Her creative universe is to be found here:
*When talking about Frida, Diego Rivera is always mentioned as her major influence. In this article, however, my focus will remain on Frida Kahlo..
The first thing you see when entering The Blue House is The Garden. It looks more like a botanical collection - roses, sunflowers, jacaranda, oleander, philodendron, fuchsia, marigolds, palms, ferns, fruit trees, and many varieties of cacti and succulents are among those which grew, and in some cases still grow, in the walled garden of La Casa Azul,
I always thought that, by no means, art should be separated from life and Kahlo’s garden is a pretty good example of that. The instant feeling when you get there is that everything around you looks exactly like her. Kahlo's spirit vibrates in the air.
Two things I will never forget - the potent indigo and her wonderfully beautiful bohemian garden.
Three things you didn't know about Frida
Fun Fact. Frida was a pet-lover, but what she understood as a pet was slightly different from what people are used to: she had several monkeys, parrots, turkeys, an eagle, and a pack of dogs that included Mexican hairless Xoloitzcuintles.
Fascinating Fact. Tiny Frid used to accompany her father on photographic assignments and in his darkroom. Guillermo Kahlo ( who was, by the way, German but adopted the Spanish equivalent from Wilhelm - "Guillermo.") established his photography studio in Mexico City in the late 1890s, and as a child, Frida Kahlo was her father's right hand.
Curious Fact. She claimed she was born in 1910 (the year the Mexican Revolution started) instead of 1907. Why? Well, because Kahlo was a vocal leftist. She joined the socialist party when she was only 16. In her early twenties, she also joined the Mexican Communist Party.
Photographs taken by her father
"From a very young age, Kahlo learned to pose for the camera, often gazing straight at the camera with her characteristic defiance. This awareness of the onlooker, through the eye of the camera, but also of her own reflection, marks the beginning of her self-made image," - Ana Baeza Ruiz, V&A researcher
An Installation as Tribute to Frida
We all know she was a revolutionary woman in many ways. She always expressed herself freely and without social ties. Intellectually restless, creative, and open-minded, she surrounded herself with independent women and helped others to be so.
In 2019, the Mexican artist Betsabee Romero created an installation that somehow comprises the libertarian spirit of Frida and sympathizes with the women of Mexico, as Frida did in her times. The installation work is also a tribute to battered, raped, threatened, and murdered women.
First Step into The Blue House
When I entered inside, the bohemia vanished. entered a universe filled with sadness, wounds, and sorrow. I knew her story by heart, but seeing parts of her laying there made my heart sink.
Kahlo contracted polio at age six, which left her right leg thinner than the left, which Kahlo disguised by wearing long skirts. She was studying medicine, but after the horrific bus crash, things changed. The accident leaves her in a great deal of pain and she is immobile for three months. She starts painting to occupy her time during her temporary state of immobilization. She eventually recovers in a full-body cast.
Cool thing - From the museum reception, you can receive a device that will tell you small stories about each object, painting, or drawing while wandering around La Casa de Azul.
Frida Kahlo's Outfits
The museum consists of ten rooms. On the ground floor is a room filled with some of Kahlo’s mostly minor works such as Retrato de Familia (1934) Ruina (1947), Retrato de Guillermo Kahlo (1952). This room was originally the formal living room, where Frida and Diego entertained notable Mexican and international visitors and friends such as Sergei Eisenstein, Nelson Rockefeller, George Gershwin, caricaturist Miguel Covarrubias and actresses, Dolores del Río and Maria Felix.
Detail from Viva la Vida (important work, known to be the last painting that Frida did)
Frida's Bedroom and The Studio Area
#mirrorselfie in Frida's Painting Studio
The two rooms of the upper floor which are open to the public contain Frida’s bedroom and the studio area. This is located in the wing that Rivera had built. The original furniture is still there.
Kahlo collected Mexican folk art, also known as arte popular. These objects included decorated ceramics, embroidered textiles, or children’s toys.
Lots of peculiar objects
In one corner, her ashes are on display in an urn, which is surrounded by a funeral mask, some personal items, and mirrors on the ceiling.
#mirrorselfie with Frida Kahlo's ashes (Urn on the left)
Under the canopy is a mirror facing down which she used to paint her many self-portraits. The head of the bed contains the painting of a dead child.
The sixth and seventh rooms are the kitchen and dining room where Frida spent much of her time. Both are in classic Mexican style, with bright yellow and blue tiles.
The Dining Room
The two rooms are filled with large earthenware pots, plates, utensils, glassware and more which came from Metepec, Oaxaca, Tlaquepaque, and Guanajuato, all known for their handcrafted items. Decorative features include papier-mache Judas skeletons hanging from the ceiling.
Off the dining room was Rivera’s tiny bedroom, with his hat, jacket, and work clothes still hanging from a wall rack.
A thing that we should all keep in mind is that she was a genius before she was an iPhone Case or a Mug Wallpaper, an ace manipulator of society and media nearly a century before social media came into existence.
The contemporary world seems to resonate completely with this incredible mixture that Frida was: empowerment - vulnerability, struggles, genius, triumphs, personal iconography, her sex, her sex life, her–everything. But her iconic look lost its meaning. After her death, without her presence to give voice to her politics, her image has been reduced to the superficial.
One of the letters from Peggy Guggenheim to Frida
She is so often stereotyped as someone working outside of the history of art but that's not true. She found different ways in which she participated in larger artist movements and communities.
Despite the many biographies, documentaries, and biopics, Frida Kahlo remains an enigma. There are many more things to learn about this often misunderstood artist.
The world made her a major icon and this is not a bad thing. I personally don't think that the way the world has transformed her into a global brand is a healthy way of showing respect. It was somehow inevitable maybe, but it is important to understand her life and legacy as clearly as possible and to distinguish between what is kitschy and what is valuable.