3rd August 2016–
We spent most of this day exploring the area of Coyoacán. I had been really looking forward to this day. Frida Kahlo was born, lived and died in Coyoacán and I had dreamt about visiting La Casa Azul, her house turned museum, since reading about it in a book about her life.
Coyoacán, in the south of the city, was once a separate village but, with the ever-increasing expansion of CDMX, it has now been consumed in and expanded beyond. We met up with a family friend, Ben, who’s been living in Mexico for the past 10 years and he took us to the Zocalo/main square of Coyoacán to have a look around. It is a truly beautiful area and, once you move away from the motorway, you can really tell it once stood apart.
Before going to Frida’s we took a quick stop off at the house of her contemporary, close friend and apparently lover (!), Leon Trotsky. Exiled from the Soviet Union in 1929, he was deported to Mexico in 1936. Trotsky spent two years living with Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera, before moving to a house about 10 minutes walk away. It was this house we visited, and in this house that he was murdered by Communist Party officials (under orders from Stalin) in 1940. Yes, in this very house Trotsky received a pick axe to the head, with his wife and companions unable to help due to the bombardment of gunfire. It has a beautiful courtyard, where he apparently used to keep chickens.
Now for the main event, La Casa Azul. It felt like going to see where a Queen once lived and breathed – though I’ve visited Buckingham Palace before and I was not this excited.
The actual artwork featured in the house is not really her most famous, but it is a piece of art in itself. Her kitchen, study and bedrooms are well-preserved, with her ashes even laid to rest in an urn on her dressing table. She lived here with her husband Diego Rivera, another extremely famous Mexican artist, but their relationship was tumultuous to say the least. In the house, there are two clocks sat side by side. One clock depicts the date they were divorced, after she found out he had cheated on her with her own sister. The other, depicts the date they were remarried – thirteen months later.
Both Frida and Diego shared a love for indigenous Mexican culture, during a period when the European lifestyle was surely idealised more among elites. In the kitchen they used traditional wood fires to cook food and traditional cooking pots (apparently some which are no longer even made today).
We were lucky enough to catch a temporary exhibition of her clothes, which included her corsets and various contraptions that she had to use as a result of her debilitated health. For those unaware of Frida’s life, she contracted Polio at the age of six, which left one of her legs withered and shorter than the other. At age 18, her school bus collided with another vehicle. Among injuries such as breaking her spinal column, a metal pole pierced her abdomen and her uterus, leaving her even more physically incapacitated and, importantly, unable to bear children. Frida featured themes of pregnancy and motherhood (or her inability to achieve it) in a number of her works and it was interesting to see that she even had a large poster of the development of a fetus in her study. It was something that obviously preoccupied and plagued her mind greatly.
The exhibition detailed how she described her body as ‘menos que perfecto/less than perfect’ and certainly through these items you understand her fragility and the depth of her health problems. Nonetheless, the exhibition demonstrated her overwhelming strength of character and her good humour too. From corsets adorned with the sickle and the hammer, to leg braces with dragons on the shoes, it seems that even the items under her Tehuana clothes breathed life and character.
The exhibition also featured some of her old outfits, which remain such a key part of my vision of her. Frida’s mother had Tehuantepec ancestry, an area of indigenous peoples in Oaxaca (pronounced Wahaca), and it was from here that she drew her inspiration. The bright colours and the long flowing skirts apparently provoked children in her neighbourhood to ask ‘Donde está el circo?/Where is the circus?’, but she brought Tehuana dress into the popular gaze.
Interestingly, she initially adopted these long skirts as a way to hide her bad leg, which perhaps gives the impression of a woman like any other, self-conscious of her ‘imperfections’. And yet, rather than fade into the background, Frida used this as an opportunity to express herself – a woman bolder and brighter than ever.