Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo (Reviewed July 2008)

Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo, Hayden Herrera (1983)[*****] We went to the Art Museum's Frida Kahlo exhibit on one of the last days -- it was very crowded, and Kahlo is hard to look at carefully with a 5 year old in tow. Before I went, I knew exactly nothing about her, and I left feeling dissatisfied but tantalized, so I checked this biography out of the library. At the exhibition, I was especially intrigued by Kahlo's unfulfilled desire to have a child and her unconventional marriage/divorce/remarriage to Diego Rivera. This biography disappointed on the first front -- while childlessness/miscarriage/fertility are central to many of her paintings, there was no thorough explanation of that struggle in Frida's life. Frida: A Biography was structured in a very straightforward, chronological way, and I think I would have preferred a thematic organization. Still, this book, and Frida herself, grew on me tremendously (even working her way into my dreams). She lived with an enormous amount of physical pain, caused by a terrible bus accident when she was 18, as well as psychic/spiritual pain, caused in large part by her complex and sometimes heartbreaking relationship with Rivera, to whom she was devoted despite his unrepentant philandering (she had her fair share of affairs as well). She was a Communist (Trotsky was one of her lovers), and passionate about Mexico. Despite her very unconventional lifestyle, she was not a high-brow bohemian; she mostly had disdain for artsy-fartsy intellectuals, and was devoted to el pueblo and traditional Mexican art forms. Her own life -- her pain, her losses, her hopes and dreams, her family, her heartbreak -- were the main subject of her painting, making her much more of a realist, and much less of a surrealist, than one would think at first glance. Despite glossing over Frida's struggle with fertility, I learned a tremendous amount about her life and her art from this biography, and while hardly a page-turner, it became much more compelling after the first 50 pages or so.

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