Frida Kahlo has been adopted as a ubiquitous face of feminism, but the Mexican artist also rallied for another cause during her lifetime that is stirring a controversy 64 years after her death. Last month, Hungary’s right-wing Magyar Idok newspaper criticized a major exhibition of Kahlo’s work at the Hungarian National Gallery for reportedly “promoting communism.”
This red scare is part of a wider call in the country to end “a dominance of leftist-liberal artists” and is taking place against in a national context of scrutinizing the arts and revising cultural policy following Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s reelection to a third consecutive term this spring.
"You won't believe it but [Leon] Trotsky has emerged in Budapest again, this time from Frida Kahlo's bed," the article in Magyar Idok reads, referencing the artist’s affair with the man largely responsible for the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia in 1917. Kahlo had ties to Mexico’s communist party and according to the Museo Frida Kahlo even decorated her bed with images of famous communist leaders, including Marx, Engels, and Mao.
In June, the newspaper also published an article by a guest commentator who accused the Hungarian State Opera’s production of Billy Elliot of spreading “gay propaganda.”
Since his first election victory in 2010, Orban and his Fidesz party have extensively revised and rewritten the Hungarian constitution and seized control of the state media outlets. Many businessmen linked to Orban and his party have expanded their wealth under his leadership. He won this year’s election in part by running on a staunchly anti-immigration platform and by focusing on issues related to Hungarians’ sense of national pride.