Local Culture: The Frida Kahlo Photography Exhibition

Chocolate is quite possibly one of the most powerful motivating forces in my life (chocolate and God. And earning enough money to pay the bills). In Palmerston North, about an hour from Whanganui, there’s a chocolate café called Theobroma which makes some of the most amazing hot chocolates ever. Unfortunately, I still don’t consider ‘the best hot chocolate ever’ to be adequate reason for a two-hour round trip. What I needed was an excuse.

Frida Kahlo exhibition

And I found one, thanks to Google: the Frida Kahlo photographic exhibition at Te Manawa Museum, its only New Zealand stop on a world tour.

Frida Kahlo LaCasaAzul
La Casa Azul, in Mexico city. Once Frida Kahlo’s home it’s now a museum dedicated to her life and work.

Kahlo was probably the first woman artist of whom I became aware, and one of the first twentieth-century artists I knew anything about, thanks in part to the movie about her which was released in 2002. When I spent some time in Mexico in my mid-twenties I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit La Casa Azul, the house in Mexico City where she was born, and where she died.

Kahlo is remembered as a painter, but she also had an interest in photography which she inherited from her father, a photographer by trade. Over the course of her life she took some amazing photographs, and also collected many by other photographers, including nineteenth-century photographs of her parents, grandparents, and other family members.

Frida Kahlo 1
Frida Kahlo: an impression of strength.

A frequent subject of photographs herself, Kahlo cultivated a direct, steely gaze: an intentional impression of strength in the face of the chronic pain which consumed her for most of her life following a horrific bus accident when she was eighteen, and the added pain of her passionate but tumultuous relationship with her husband, Diego Rivera, an artist twenty years her senior.

Frida Kahlo Rivera
A photograph of Diego Rivera, bearing the impression of Frida’s kiss: testimony to her passion for him.

It was the photographs in which this pain was visible which struck me most vividly in this exhibition: Frida in a hospital bed, following one of her many surgeries, her usually elaborately-arranged hair loose on the pillow, her eyes deeply shadowed with suffering.

I have no idea where this exhibition is going next, or where it’s already been, but if you ever have the chance, check it out.

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