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Love, Unibrows, and Communism

Frida Kahlo "Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair"
Frida Kahlo “Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair”

Frida & Diego at the AGO

By Natasha Tsakiris

Even if you have never heard of Frida Kahlo, you’d probably recognize her by her distinctive eyebrows prominent in many of her self-portraits. But before Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón became Frida Kahlo, Mexico had another renowned artist. Diego Rivera, Kahlo’s husband, was considered the “people’s artist.” His paintings expressed his passions and beliefs about politics and his homeland.

Together they became two of the most celebrated artists of the twentieth century and of modern art. He painted for the people, while she painted to survive. Therefore, it is only fitting the two share an exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics and Painting. 

The exhibit, which is a collaboration with the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, is a celebration of Mexican art assembled through three Mexican private collections: the Museo Dolores Olmedo, Colección Gelman, and Galería Arvil.

Frida and Diego were prolific painters who brought their political ideals and activism into their provocative work, using art as the means to change their world. Their revolutionary, freethinking ideas nurtured their artwork, inspired people, and sometimes pushed the boundaries, like with Rivera’s “Man at the Crossroads” mural commissioned by the Rockefeller family.

Diego Rivera “Man at the Crossroads”

Curated by Dot Tuer (interviewed below), OCAD University professor and cultural historian, the exhibit is a showcases of more than 35 works by Kahlo plus another 45 by Rivera, along with videos and photographs of the couple separate and together. The exhibit complements Frida and Diego’s artwork, telling their stories as separate artists and as artists who are also lovers.

Pain and suffering make for good storytelling, or in Kahlo’s case, beautiful paintings, serving as some of the main themes in her art. Kahlo bleeds bright, bold, vibrant, and emotional images of her haunting past onto the many canvases. Her artwork hung on the walls of the AGO serves as a visual diary: the traumatic bus accident when she was 18, the miscarriages she suffered, Rivera’s infidelity, and other traumatic events are pictured.

Frida Kahlo "Henry Ford Hospital"
Frida Kahlo “Henry Ford Hospital”

Rivera, who is considered by some to be even better than his influence Picasso, creates visions of history, culture, industry, technology, and communism. His murals are larger than life and tell multiple narratives at once.

Diego Rivera "Flower Festival of Santa Anita"
Diego Rivera “Flower Festival of Santa Anita”

Before exiting the exhibit, make sure to stop by the shrine created to commemorate the deaths of Frida and Diego that mimics a typical Mexican ofrenda (altar), which is constructed to remember the dead for the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) holiday. Patrons have the chance to make paper flowers and drawings to add to the already colourful, bountiful homage to these innovative artists.

And judging by the decorated shrine, it’s evident that Frida and Diego will forever remain in the hearts of aficionados who treasure the couple’s art and  love story.

The exhibit runs until January 20th at the AGO.

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