Julie Taymor’s Frida is the biography, changed in places, of the famous Mexican painter, whose life was as large as her husband’s art. Salma Hayek does little justice to the real Kahlo, but the film is worth watching as an introduction to a serious study of both Kahlo and Rivera.
Kahlo’s story is well-known, oft told, and as surreal as some of her art. She was a Marxist, actually a Stalinist; a feminist bi-sexual; a sexual libertine; a many-race mix, part Jewish, part Spanish, part Amerindian; married to a man equally complex, talented, rebellious and anarchic; and a lover of the Mexican indigene. She loved Mexico, and as Patrick Marnhan confirms (258), pulled Rivera back to the country after the aborted commission at Rockefeller center.
To the end, Kahlo stayed Marxist, even after an affair with the doomed Trotsky (310). While she fought for causes well ahead of her time--civil rights for the native Indians and feminist expressions of the female body--she did not limit her appeal to specific segments. Her final solo exhibition showcased her work as an artist, not as an activist wedded to identity-based causes. She used her mixed identity to root herself in and preach a common humanity beyond divides, and a common responsibility to work for equal rights across the board. In this she was influenced heavily by her husband, Diego Rivera. Rivera’s circle of mural painters, Orozco and Siqueiros among them, were strong believers in the original tenets of the Mexican Revolution of 1910, and their debates were on details. This cultural air of stressing human solidarity as opposed to group identity and fragmentation seeped into Kahlo’s portraits and behavior too. She was racially not of Mexico’s majority, being half Jewish, nor was she part of its powerful elite, the Criollos. But she avoided the mantle of representing her specific ethnicity or cultural setting, preferring to stand for ideals more basic and hence more universal. This was largely because the cultural backdrop of the revolution, and the mural art springing from it, encouraged a universal outlook.
Frida. Dir. Julie Taymor. Miramax, 2002. Film.
Marnham, Patrick. Dreaming with His Eyes Open: A Life of Diego Rivera. New York: Knopf, 1998. Print.