Frida Kahlo: Her Photos

By Laura Latzko, November 2015 Issue.

The name Frida Kahlo instantly calls to mind paintings representative of Mexican culture, politics, feminism and self. But what about the photography of this third-generation photographer?

To answer this question, the Heard Museum presents Frida Kahlo: Her Photos, an exhibition of photos from Kahlo’s personal collection offering an intimate look into the life of the feminist icon known for her revealing self portraits and shows the importance of this medium in Kahlo’s life, Oct. 31-Feb. 8.

Frida Kahlo: Her Photos, curated by the well-known Mexican photographer and photography historian Pablo Ortiz Monasterio, comes to Phoenix from the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City. The museum is located in La Casa Azul, the home where Kahlo grew up and later lived with her husband, Diego Rivera.

The exhibit presents a selection of 241 images from the 6,500, which are part of the Blue House archive. According to the Heard Museum’s website (, “The photographs, along with Frida Kahlo’s personal items, were locked in a room of the Blue House, the residence where she spent most of her life, and revealed to the public in 2007.”

According to Janet Cantley, Heard Museum curator, photography was part of Kahlo’s life from an early age. Her father and grandfather were both photographers.

“When you see all of the self–portraits that she did, there’s definitely an influence from those early experiences of her dad doing self–portraits, either of himself or family members,” Cantley said.

The images in the exhibit have been broken down into six categories: The Origins; The Blue House; Politics, Revolutions and Diego; Her Broken Body; Frida’s Loves; and Photography.

Through the exhibit, Cantley said guests will get to know more about Kahlo as a person.

“I came out of it feeling like I had been looking at someone’s personal photo album,” Cantley said. “It wasn’t just a framed photograph on the wall.”

The traveling collection also features photos of the artist’s pet deer, dogs and monkeys; places in Mexico; the gardens of La Casa Azul; Communist leaders; the artist in her earlier years; Mexican actors and actresses and Kahlo and Diego Rivera, a muralist whom Kahlo married, divorced and re-married.

The exhibit also gives viewers a glimpse into the physical pain experienced by Kahlo, resulting from polio as a child and a bus accident at age 18. During her life, the artist had more than 30 surgeries and often wore such as contraptions as medical corsets.

The Her Broken Body section of the exhibit features X-rays of the artist and photos of her in bed recovering.

“The pain is definitely there, which is something that comes through in all of her art,” Cantley said. “Because she was isolated when she had all of the back surgeries-she was immobilized and if not in bed, at least in a wheelchair a lot of the time. I think just looking at the photographs made her feel like she had some companionship.”

Las Favoritas de Frida

The exhibit will be accompanied by Las Favoritas de Frida, an exhibition of items similar to those worn or owned by the artist. This display was developed by Heard Museum staff, in collaboration with the Phoenix Fridas, a group of local artists inspired by Kahlo.

The accompanying exhibit showcases clothing, jewelry, folk art, textiles, lacquerware serving trays, ceramic items and cooking utensils similar to those from Kahlo’s personal collection.

During her life, Kahlo often wore Tehuana regional styles from Oaxaca. She was frequently pictured wearing big, bold necklaces and rings; multicolored shawls; “huipil” square-cut blouses; long, flowing skirts and braids and flowers in her hair.

Through her style of dress, Cantley said the openly bisexual artist defined herself as a powerful, self-empowered woman.

“It’s interesting to learn that how she dressed was based off her mother’s family, and the Tehuana area of Mexico,” Cantley said. “The women there were notorious for being strong, independent women. That was an image that Frida Kahlo wanted to present.”

According to Cantley, the exhibit will give patrons a deeper understanding of Mexico’s regional cultures.

“I think people will be made aware of the rich diversity of indigenous people from Mexico,” Cantley said. “… there are actually very specific ways of dressing and styles from particular areas.”

Left: Teodora Blanco Zapotec from Atzompa, Oaxaca, Mexico figure, 1979, ceramic. Right: Unknown artist, Ameyaltepec, Guerrero, Mexico, portrait jug, ceramic and paint. Photos courtesy of Favoritas de Frida and the Heard Museum.

In addition to the items displayed in this exhibit (which come from the Heard’s permanent collection), each of the Phoenix Fridas chose an item for inclusion. Quotes and comments from each artist will accompany their selections.

Painter and found object artist Emily Costello, known as “Smoking Frida,” chose a sculpture depicting a woman with animals hanging from her.

“I picked that because it really spoke to me. [Frida’s] love of her animals was just crazy, and I think that was because she couldn’t have children, so they became her children,” Costello said. “I think she would have gotten a kick out of it, and from what I’ve learned about Frida, she would have said, ‘Yeah, I posed for that.’”

Jewelry maker and beadwork artist Carmen Guerrero, aka “Beader Frida,” picked out an Aztec stone sculpture similar to the pre-Columbian sculptures displayed in Kahlo’s home.

Costello said that she and other members of the group used their knowledge of Kahlo to guide them in their decisions.

“We all have a pretty good take on Frida and her history. All of us are inspired in different ways by her,” Costello said. “I think intuitively we knew enough about her likes and dislikes and what she was about.”

A giant Kahlo puppet designed by Carmen and her husband, Zarco Guerrero, will be displayed in the lobby during the Kahlo exhibitions.

Guerrero said the Favoritas exhibition and related programming allow the Phoenix Fridas to share how Kahlo has touched their lives.

“I think people will see how she has inspired a whole group of women, who are creating art around her and are inspired by her resilience, strength and ability to look at the positive side of life,” Guerrero said.

As part of the exhibit, a documentary on Kahlo’s life will run on a 30-minute loop. The film includes an interview with Kahlo’s stepdaughter, Guadalupe Rivera.

Exhibit Extras

Public Opening, Oct. 31

To kick off the exhibit, the Heard Museum is open special hours (9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the general public; admission for museum members begins at 9 a.m.), Central Courtyard, Lovena Ohl Gallery and Jacobson Gallery. The public opening celebration will include DJ Carl Hanni spinning Latin beats in the Central Courtyard from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Museum guests are invited to a special pet parade, featuring creatures once treasured by Frida, at 12:30 p.m.

Frida in Focus, Nov. 6

Museum guests are invited to celebrate Kahlo and meet local artists inspired that are inspired by her work during Frida in Focus, 6 to 10 p.m. Nov. 6. As part of this First Friday event, local dancer Liliana Gomez will honor Kahlo with a choreographed dance number, the Phoenix Fridas will display and sell their artwork and Palabra, a hair art collective, will offer Kahlo-inspired hair braiding ($10 donation).

¡Fiesta Con Frida!, Dec. 4

As part of ¡Fiesta Con Frida!, a First Friday event, the museum will offer a special dinner with recipes from Frida's Fiestas: Recipes and Reminiscences of Life with Frida Kahlo by Marie-Pierre Colle and Guadalupe Rivera.

Espiritu de Frida panel discussion, Jan. 31

Local artists and educators, including Vanessa Davidson, Phoenix Art Museum’s Curator of Latin American Art, will address inspirational Latin American female artists, including Frida Kahlo. The free panel discussion will take place at 1:30 p.m. in the Monte Vista Room.

Frida Kahlo: Her Photos by James Oles and Horacio Hernandez, $45

The museum will sell an accompanying book to the exhibit, Frida Kahlo: Her Photos by James Oles and Horacio Hernandez, in the Heard’s Books & More bookstore.

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