A Recently Discovered Box of Frida Kahlo’s Personal Affects Inspires a Young Mexican Artist
The Mexican painter Frida Kahlo (1907–54) has long been an icon of strength and complexity—one who remains relevant year after year, if the current exhibition at the New York Botanical Garden, “Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life,” is any indication.
It’s hardly surprising that Kahlo’s story would be especially inspiring to artists from her native Mexico. Son of the Moon, a painter and photographer from the desert region of Coahuila, found particular meaning in a series of photographs that represents Kahlo’s day-to-day life and the struggles and moments of transcendence within it. The series, shot by Graciela Iturbide and entitled “El baño de Frida Kahlo” (“The Bathroom of Frida Kahlo”) (2004), documents a number of Kahlo’s personal affects that her husband, fellow painter Diego Rivera, had insisted be locked up after Kahlo’s premature death at the age of 47.
Reviewing these photographs was a transformative experience for Son of the Moon himself. As the artist says of Kahlo, “Frida has been an icon to me for many years.When I began to think on her strength, through suffering, both emotional, marital, and physical, I realized that Frida was a warrior.” This realization is expressed in his new collection of paintings, now on view at Studio 905 on Juniper. Some of the works, like the rich red-hued oil painting Rose (2014) and the ghostly Monarch (2014), in which the subject seems to fade into the background, are reminiscent of Kahlo’s own self-portraits. Others, like Blind and Mute (both 2014), reimagine Kahlo in a darkly whimsical and vaguely terrifying setting draped with American flags, Mickey Mouse ears perched on her head, and U.S. dollar bills covering her eyes or mouth.
Frida the survivor: it’s a theme that runs right through the show, whether in Son of the Moon’s lush portraits or sharply satirical pieces. Even when blinded or muted—or made to look foolish—Kahlo’s gaze is straightforward and intense, her figure steadfast. It’s no wonder that Son of the Moon titled his show “In the Time of the Butterflies.” It references a metaphor coined by Rivera himself. As the great painter once said of Kahlo, “I recommend her to you, not as a husband but as an enthusiastic admirer of her work, acid and tender, hard as steel and delicate and fine as a butterfly’s wing, lovable as a beautiful smile and as profound and cruel as the bitterness of life.”
In Son of the Moon’s works, Kahlo is indeed, like her art itself, both hard and delicate, acid and tender, a perennial source of fascination and inspiration for her fellow artists, then and now. And moving forward, too: after all, no one can say when the next box of locked-away objects might be discovered.
“Son of the Moon, In the Time of the Butterflies” is on view at Studio 905 on Juniper, Atlanta, May 22–Jun. 6, 2015.