The line snaked around the corner of Casa Azul, home of Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, in Colonia del Carmen Coyoacan in Mexico City. Now a museum, the home is a mecca and tribute to the talent, strength and perseverance of a woman who endured pain and suffering in privacy while consorting with the intellectual elite of the world. Her likeness and style is replicated throughout Mexico. As a social, cultural and political icon, she could be considered akin to a contemporary Virgin of Guadalupe in many circles, revered, honored, even worshipped. She stands as a role model for women’s fortitude in the face of insurmountable odds against survival.
It was late Sunday morning when I arrived at Casa Azul and thank goodness, because the traffic was light and it only took the taxi twenty-five minutes to get there from my little hotel in Colonia Roma. (Sunday is a good day to travel the streets of Mexico City quickly.) Thankfully, I could squeeze in an hour before leaving at 3:15 p.m. on the ETN bus to Irapuato, Guanajuato. Not enough time, but enough for a taste of Frida Kahlo‘s life as a painter and her tumultuous relationship with Diego Rivera.
It’s common knowledge among Frida fans that she was in a terrible accident at the age of 18, when a streetcar ran into the bus she was riding in, and a metal rod penetrated her body. She began to paint as an antedote during her recuperation and then later taught art, met Diego Rivera and married him in 1929.
Kahlo’s self-portraits convey the despair, anguish and uncertainty of her existence. Her wheelchair sits in front of the easel. On it rests a luscious painting of fruit (note the Mexican flag), a juxtaposition to other paintings that depict her naked, exposed, splayed on a bed, bleeding from life’s emotional and physical wounds. There is a universality in the message that each of us can identify with, which is what makes her paintings so powerful.
Naturally, it is easy to romanticize these two figures of Mexican art and politics. And, Casa Azul allows us a glimpse into their romantic relationship — note the kitchen with the little ollas spelling out Frida and Diego’s name along with the two palomas (doves) connected to each other.
And, the museum tells the truth about the Rivera-Kahlo relationship by exhibiting the two clocks that Frida painted that tell the story of how time stopped when she discovered his affair with her sister, their subsequent divorce and then their remarriage a year later when time began again for her.
Above is an unfinished self-portrait done while she was visiting Detroit, Michigan. Below are some drawings by Rivera that were recently discovered.
Frida Kahlo called Diego Rivera “Frog.” A reflecting pool in the garden has a mosaic tile floor with a frog swimming, there are frog motifs throughout the house and garden, and in Frida’s happy bedroom (she also had a sad bedroom with a suspended mirror where she painted during confinement in her body cast) on a side table is the frog urn that contains her ashes after cremation.
Of course, an hour is not enough to savor the experience of being in this astounding home, and I will return again for much longer during my next visit to Mexico City — which, by the way, I found to be safe and friendly!