In the last three years, I’ve probably visited Casa Azul, where Frida Kahlo was born and lived with Diego Rivera, over ten times. I come because I organize the art history study tour, Looking for Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
Can you get to Mexico City next weekend?
On this latest visit last Friday with a group from Australia and New Zealand, I served as a consultant for their leader who wanted a one-day quick immersion into Frida’s life for her group.
I wondered: How do I continue to take photos of the same iconographic details of Frida and Diego’s life? The paint brushes. The photographs. The furniture. The folk art collection.
The pre-Hispanic ceramics and lava rock sculpture. The clothing. The frog urn that contains her ashes. The paintings she created out of pain. Reverence. Disappointment. Courage. Commitment to love and family. Passion.
Go to the details, I told myself. Captures the parts, not the whole. Focus on the brush strokes. The lace. The color. The shadows and reflections. The images of the men and women she loved.
Go to the details. Find the ribbons. Find the ribs of the plant leaves. The shape of flowers. The accoutrements of the corsets and built-up shoes to hide her deformities. The textures and reflections.
She put such a strong, uplifting face to the world despite her injuries — physical and emotional.
This trip to Casa Azul was different for me and I used the experience to examine the infinite, small parts of life that we often scan over to take in the big picture.
If you want to join me in Mexico City, Thursday, July 29, for a July 30 morning start to a three-day immersion into the murals, paintings and lives of Friday and Diego, there is a space for you. It’s so easy to fly in and out!
Why is Frida Kahlo an icon? Perhaps you would like to help me answer this question.
What does she represent for women who aspire to be independent, strong, feminine and vulnerable?
She hid her misshapen body beneath glorious hand-woven and embroidered dresses, put her best foot and face forward. Persevered and thrived.
Today, she is more famous, more revered than Diego Rivera because she exposed herself and revealed the internal, damaged self.
Andre Breton called her Mexico’s surrealist painter. She is more than that. Surrealism conjures up Salvador Dali and the distortions he saw in life. Frida reflected on her own distortions and created beauty from them.
Would Frida have become the painter she did without having suffered the trolley car accident that sent a metal spear through her uterus?
Sometimes courage requires that we each put one foot in front of the other to move forward, despite set-backs. We love Frida Kahlo because through her story she teaches us that life requires risk, innovation, and that being afraid is part of our existence.
When Frida died, Diego Rivera wanted to establish a museum to honor her. She was not yet recognized. He convinced his friend, Dolores Olmedo, to invest in purchasing Frida’s paintings and Casa Azul.
But, he made her promise not to open the green closet door, where clothing, diaries and photos remained secreted for fifty years.
In 2006, the closet was opened and art history was rewritten.
Exvotos: Mexico’s Naive Folk Art Painting of Thanksgiving
In the third room of Casa Azul you will see a small sampling of a vast collection of exvotos amassed by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. It is said they had one of the largest collections of these small tributes of thanks to a saint for a miracle, for saving a life, a favor received.
Domera Morales Rojas Milagro con ce vida. Cholula, Puebla. 1940’s.
These are charming, naive paintings on laminate, tin, paper or cardboard, made by the person giving thanks. It usually includes a personal message below the scene, along with the name of the petitioner, and sometimes a date. You often see misspellings, incomplete sentences. A hammer and nail was all that was needed to attach the ex voto to the shrine in offering.
New ex voto painted by Rafael Rodriguez, collectible, riding a guajalote.
It is now difficult to find antique ex votos. Many we see are painted on distressed tin or steel to look old. Buyers can be deceived and pay a higher price than the piece is worth.
A prodigious miracle. Lupema Lora Rosales. Zacatecas. Circa 1940. Vintage.
Yet, my tried and true motto is: If you like it, buy it. You may never see a piece like the one in front of you again. Meaningful mementos are important.
My other motto, that I learned a long time ago is: There will always be a sale. That is, there will always be something to fall in love with. If you pass it by, there will be something else, but it won’t be the same!
Saved from octopus strangulation in Baja, California, by Rafael Rodriguez. New.
Back to ex votos.
The day after my visit to Casa Azul last week, I took the Australian group to Bazaar del Sabado in Plaza San Jacinto, San Angel. This is now my favorite place for imaginative, creative shopping in Mexico City. The bazaar, held only on Saturdays, is filled with contemporary art, jewelry, clothing, textiles and artisan designed wares.
Early ex voto, 1931. Saved from pulminary sickness, infinitely grateful.
Adjacent streets are lined with boutiques, galleries, and street artisans selling crafts from all over Mexico. Painters and print makers show their work displayed on easels in the surrounding parks. It is a lively place to meet, eat and spend the day.
Vintage exvoto, giving thanks for safe journey on treacherous mountain road.
My greatest discovery was the small shop operated by Karima Muyaes, whose father was an antique dealer and one of the original founders of Bazaar del Sabado. Karima is a talented painter who is in process of publishing a collection of her vast body of work.
Giving thanks for surviving this train robbery in Chihuahua in 1937. Reproduction.
The shop has a selection of fine contemporary ex voto reproductions and I became enamored with the idea of owning one, a la Frida and Diego. Karima is forthcoming about what is old and what is a reproduction. After I bought a blue six-headed sea monster who, ojala (god willing), did not strangle the supplicant, Karima and I talked about our mutual love for Oaxaca.
You need a magnifying glass to read this old one!
She also told me she had a few vintage ex-votos at her home and invited me to come to visit, which I happily did. The environment is a visual feast in tribute to the work of her father, his collections, and her amazing paintings.
Galley proofs of Karima’s new book, The Color of Spirit
She is in process of putting together a photo book of her life’s work. I had a chance to look at the early galleys and meet the graphic designer from Chicago who is working with her on her project.
Portrait of me and Karima in her living room, Mexico City; her paintings
Painting on ceramic, by Karima Muyaes
I am thinking of purchasing a few ex votos for resale. If you are interested, please let me know. email@example.com
Painting on canvas, unframed, by Karima Muyaes
Tabletop still life, home of Karima Muyaes
It is likely I will meet Karima again before I leave Mexico City to return to North Carolina on this trip. We will probably visit her studio, where I will take more photos to share with you.
Paint brushes, home of Karima Muyaes
Vintage sterling silver milagros –folk charms, a father’s collection
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Photography
Tagged antique, ex voto, folk art, Karima Muyaes, laminates, Mexico, milagros, naive painting, reproductions, retablo, vintage