“It’s kind of incredible how someone as complicated and contested as Mexican artist Frida Kahlo has become reduced to red lips, a unibrow, a dark updo, and colorful flowers in her hair,” Julie Rodrigues Widholm begins her lecture on Kahlo. She goes on to explain that while many immediately recognize one of the most famous female artists in the art world, much of Kahlo’s appearance and personal life has eclipsed the public’s knowledge of what she really stood for in her art. In taking a closer look at Kahlo’s work and discussing the curation of an exhibition at the MCA Rodrigues Widholm was involved in, four enduring themes which continue to reverberate throughout the art world today are brought to light for the viewer to learn more about.
These themes include: the performance of gender—as exemplified by La Venadita (The Little Deer) in which Kahlo appears anthropomorphized as a deer with both male and female attributes works that contest national identity; the power of art to speak truth to power politically; and the absent or traumatized body.
By the end of the lecture, this reviewer had a more honed lens through which to view other works of art by Kahlo as well as an understanding of how those themes continue to reverberate and be explored by other artists.
FRIDA KAHLO AND THE ANIMAL SELF Adds A Fifth Theme
Another lecture provided by the McAninch Arts Center entitled complements Rodrigues Widholm’s lecture by offering a fifth lens through which to view Kahlo’s art: the animal self. Led by David Ouellette, this lecture discusses Kahlo’s love of animals as well as the symbolism they took on in her work. Ouellette begins with a primer on the submissive way animals are portrayed in works by Da Vinci or Murillo before moving on to discuss how Kahlo’s animal portraits scrutinize and acknowledge the viewer through a direct gaze.
Ouellete, for example, illustrates how animals play a role in heightening some of the other themes addressed by Rodrigues Widholm is Kahlo’s Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird. In it, a spider monkey investigates the source of Kahlo’s pain through attentive care. The Little Deer is also investigated for the way that it blurs the distinction between human and animal, while simultaneously and unapologetically exploring the performance of gender as well as physical trauma. Ouellete ultimately comes to the conclusion that Kahlo’s connections to nature allow her to imagine and portray herself as a bridge between human and non-human
entities in a continuum more in line with Kahlo’s indigenous background.
These lectures are only two of many being offered for free on YouTube by the McAninch Arts
Center in conjunction with the Frida Kahlo exhibit, Frida Kahlo: Timeless, at the McAninch Art
Center, Cleve Carney Museum of Art, June 5, 2021-September 6, 2021.
McAninch Art Center Preps Us for FRIDA KAHLO: TIMELESS
If you, like many others, are anxiously awaiting a time when you can safely head back into the world to enjoy arts and culture—perhaps the Cleve Carney Museum of Art’s upcoming exhibit, Frida Kahlo: Timeless—then you’ll likely enjoy the opportunity to learn more about the artist Frida Kahlo in this McAninch Arts Centers’ lecture series. Each free lecture covers Kahlo’s work from a variety of angles, ensuring that no stone is left unturned in a wide and varied exploration of the famous artist’s oeuvre, impact, and influences. The two lectures reported on here-- Frida Kahlo and the Animal Self, featuring insights from College of DuPage (COD) Art History Professor David Ouellette, and Contemporary Art After Frida Kahlo with Julie Rodrigues Widholm, the Director of the UC Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive, are, in this reporter’s view, a particularly helpful jumping-off point for viewers interested in learning more about Kahlo’s influences and lasting impact on the world of contemporary art.
Open Run through May 2021
For more information on these lectures see the FRIDA EVENTS — Cleve Carney Museum of Art
Stay tuned to these pages to read more reports on the events leading up to the Frida Kahlo: Timeless exhibit, coming soon - June 5-Sept. 6.
Editor’s Note: Read the related story -- McAninch Arts Center Presents FOLK ART TO FINE ART Review–Cesáreo Moreno Lecture
Images courtesy of McAninch Arts Center
About the Author: Brent Ervin-Eickhoff
Brent fell in love with storytelling as a 2nd grader, making a movie about wizards in his backyard with his mother's borrowed camcorder. Since then, he has worked on countless creative projects as a filmmaker, writer, and stage director. In all of his work, Brent's goal is to foster creative experiences that offer others a deeper understanding of the impact their choices have on the world around them.
When he isn't working on a creative project, Brent enjoys trying out new recipes, attending live concerts, and playing Ultimate Frisbee. While he wouldn't claim to be particularly athletic, competing in pick-up games where "spirit of the game" is just as important as skill is right up his alley.
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