In 2016, more than fifty years after her death, artist Frida Kahlo’s fame and popularity are undiminished. Her iconic face adorns t-shirts, totes, and murals around the world.
She is well-known equally for her art, her activism, her flamboyant style, and her tumultuous relationship with painter Diego Rivera.
Now, Tucsonans and visitors to Tucson have a special chance to get to know Kahlo a little better.
Beginning October 10, 2016, and on view until May 30, 2017, an expansive exhibit examining Kahlo’s life and her connection to nature will be on display at the Tucson Botanical Gardens. The collection was initially curated by a diverse team of 200 staff, artists, and scientists at the New York Botanical Gardens.
After its explosive Manhattan success (breaking museum attendance records), the Tucson Botanical Gardens was selected as the only other institution worldwide to host “Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life.”
The exhibit is a recreation of Kahlo’s and her husband Diego Rivera’s famous house in Mexico City, the Casa Azul. Complete with a scale version of the pyramid at Casa Azul, flower beds of marigolds, cacti, and a replica of Kahlo’s home studio, the exhibit also houses two small galleries of Kahlo’s art and local recreations, a children’s space, and a menu of Kahlo-inspired dishes at the garden café.
As the name suggests, “Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life” invites the visitor to explore topics ranging from Kahlo’s choices in home decor to her many romantic relationships and chronic illness.
Especially relevant seems her lifelong commitment to honoring the indigenous cultures of Mexico, particularly in reaction to European colonialism in Mexico. Her activism is reflected in her cultivation of native Mexican plants at Casa Azul, and her garden feels especially at home in the Tucson, Arizona landscape.
There is no doubt, too, that the exhibit’s opening during the month of October was a conscious and timely choice. Inspired by Tucson’s own All Souls Procession, the Tucson Botanical Gardens Frida Kahlo exhibit is adorned with colorful altars, calaveras, and costumed skeletons created by local students.
The Kahlo-inspired exhibit also includes a variety of poetry readings, tours, lectures, and other events that will take place throughout the exhibit’s eight month run.
In many ways, Frida Kahlo presented in her life and work a confrontational early image of identity politics: she was an historic figure known for being disabled (primarily through her numerous self-portraits), proudly female, proudly a person of color and queer.
In 2016, her example as an individual representing diversity seems especially relevant.
Countless films, novels, artistic representations, and merchandise have spawned her own posthumous cultural empire, which is ironic, given her life-long protest against capitalism and consumerism.
“Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life” lets her complex legacy breathe organically, un-commercially; in the garden, her work and life speak for themselves.
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