Friday, July 26, 2013

Frida Kahlo's Blue House

Mexico's best known artists, are without a doubt, Diego Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo. This was not always so. Frida's work came into prominence later in her life, long after Diego had achieved his, and she was almost always patronizingly seen as Diego's wife, even when she wasn't. And twice she wasn't; before she married him and between their divorce and remarriage.

She once said she had two major accidents. The bus tragedy that almost killed her, and Diego.

She was raised in the Blue House, a home built by her photographer father. She then lived in it with Diego, and he continued to live and work there after her death. The house is in Coyoacán, once a small town outside of Mexico City, now a blended suburb full of exquisite large homes that date back to the early 20th century.

Patty and I especially wanted to see Frida's museum while a special exhibit of her clothing was on display. Apparently before Diego died, he asked that all her clothes, jewelry, shoes, and personal effects be put into storage and kept out of the public eye for many years. When the woman who guarded them passed on, the storage areas were opened, the clothing was fixed, repaired, and cleaned, and some pieces were put out in a special exhibit.

I downloaded the Metro map from the Metro's own website before we left for Mexico. But, not too surprisingly, the map did not have any reference to a new line that would let us out only a few blocks from Frida's house/museum. After all, the new line has only been operating for a little over a year, certainly not time enough to update the website.
The pyramid in the courtyard

Fortunately, the maps inside the Metro were up to date and we decided where we could emerge and walk to the museum. It was much further than expected and we arrived tired and thirsty.

Many things surprised me about the house. For instance "house" is a bit of a misnomer. It is a large walled lot with several disconnected buildings, quite typical of elegant homes in Mexico. The building closest to the street appeared to be public reception areas; living room with kitchen and a dining room. The whole house had a somewhat disjointed floor plan. I suppose when you have servants it's not important to be able to efficiently get food to the table, and you wouldn't worry about short flights of stairs all over the place. Just outside the kitchen was a sunken pit with stairs leading down into it with no exit or door leading to other rooms. Just an odd place to sit and read, or who knows what?

Frida's studio faced north for the best painting light, with windows to the east as well. The eastern windows looked out into the tree covered large patio with a fountain and a pyramid full of sculptures that Diego designed. The signs said the studio is just as she left it, but I doubt that. Why would she have left a large path for tourists to come traipsing through? Still, there was a real magic seeing her wheel chair in front of an easel given to her by John D. Rockefeller. Next to the studio was a small room with a single bed. This was her day bed where she could rest when she wanted to lie down flat. Through a doorway, her bedroom, was also fitted with a single bed and other furniture with items she collected or made.

Off the dining room was a guest bedroom where Trotsky stayed. I recognized it from the movie, Frida, which may have been filmed in the house, but if not, they were certainly faithful to the room and the window where he sat just as the assassin sneaked up from behind. It was the room in which he died. Not knowing that story, it would have been just a lovely room, knowing the story, it had an erie feel to it. Funny how we perceive things....

On the day Frida died, a death mask was made and then recreated in bronze. It sits, wrapped in a scarf, just below the pillow on her day bed. The mirror she looked into while painting her body casts is still affixed above the bed, stretched between the frame at the top of the four posts.

A Huipil shirt, highly decorated
In another building, which may have once been bedrooms or even servant quarters, a limited number of her wardrobe pieces were on display. Since she always wore braces and often full body casts after numerous operations, some of those items were on display too. Talk about Machiavellian torture devices! They looked so awkward and painful, yet were supposed to reduce pain.

Many of her notebooks were shown as well, with such intimate memoirs as a drawing of herself on an operating table, her miscarried baby between her legs, and Diego in the background with doctors.

She was an amazing woman, fearless it would seem when it came to being exactly who she was with little care as to what others might think. In some ways she was free to express  things other women would have kept private, and she suffered for it.

Her wardrobe was her own creation, based on the traditional costumes of her indigenous heritage, made specially for her body and its peculiarities. Her shoes/boots were custom made with one shoe built up by an inch or so to adjust her much shorter right leg. And the workmanship of each embroidered blouse and skirt was of a quality not seen today. The tiniest stitches, by the thousands, flow over voluminous skirts and dress up the plain boxy huipil shirts. She wore jewelry in her hair, didn't pluck her eyebrows, and made every attempt to draw the attention away from her flawed body to focus on her face and eyes. I do believe she succeeded. She will never be remembered as a cripple, but as a great painter and a free spirit, one that can still be felt in the house.

Pots used as rain gutters.