Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Frida Problem.

This is going to be controversial and hurt some feelings. If that's too easy to do, run away now, mes amis.

Am I the only gabacha on the internet who has a big problem with the Frida thing? I hope not.

I've had the same experience with Frida's art that most people do. It is intense, unsparing. It grabs you by the throat, it winds itself into your heart. You can't be unmoved and you can't be the same if you spend time looking at these images. If you get to see them in person, you are lucky to absorb them that way. Breton famously called her "a ribbon around a bomb."

Someone has stolen the bomb.

Marxism Will Give Health to the Sick, 1954

" 'I'm not painting or doing anything. I dislike the "high society" here [in New York where she had travelled with Rivera] and feel a little rage against all these fat cats, since I've seen thousands of people in terrible misery.' - Frida Kahlo

Frida is not a product or a pet. Frida is not a cute wide-eyed doll.  Frida is not a tepid "permission to play".  Frida is not a chicken soup for the White Lady Soul.

None of those things are bad, on their own, but they're absolutely misapplied when you apply them to Frida.

I might understand a gringa desire to connect with Frida if, say, you have a major illness or disability to the tune of 40 surgeries. I'm not sure anyone has ever articulated the fears sufferings and epiphanies of illness on the same terms or ever will since. I connect with these images over their spidery IV lines, but I am humbled at the scope of my own illness in relation. I won't make a point of making a visual art connection, I'll simply absorb. Look. Listen.

I might understand a gringa desire to link your art to Frida if you're a serious Marxist and you've actually suffered over those beliefs. I don't believe that the state should be in charge of all property, but I believe in people's right to believe and I recognize that this country is still stuck in a permanent insane Red scare.

But if you're a comfortable, reasonably healthy, straight white woman in the North American suburbs, one who has had the kids and grandkids that Frida would have KILLED to have been able to bear - what exactly gives? Why isn't looking at Frida's work and admiring it enough?

If you're xicana or a Mexican National she's yours to reframe and engage with. She could only have come from the same amazing place as you. You certainly don't need me or anyone else  to tell you that. I love to see her well treated and honored, but it's not my place to demand anything like that! If you want to be irreverent, that's your prerogative and can be really valuable too. If you want to transmit her as an icon of beauty and positivity I understand why that has value, and I think that this was a part of her legacy, the elevation and dissemination of indio aesthetics and beauty.

I'm not saying "nobody ever make Frida anything" and I'm not dictating how the Latin world handle its luminaries. But I'm addressing the ubiquitous shorthand Frida that anglo Mixed Media artists seem to love.

Peeps:  Please scratch the surface and understand who you're looking at.

LOOK at Frida. Study Frida. Your life WILL be richer for it. But study what's there and don't project your sanitized daydreams onto it.

Frida is personal, but she is never solipsistic. Frida is personal but she is never disconnected from Amerindian identity, Mexican identity, populist politics, or her specific time.  Frida is relevant to Feminism but Feminism is simply a part, a fraction, of her relevance.

It bothers me to see this work reduced to a consumer and aesthetic choice and branding. But it bothers me twenty times more when Anglo North Americans feel free to pluck the pretty parts out of a garden they don't even realize is someone else's freaking garden.

If you're not entirely sure why it's speaking to you, maybe you need to think and read some more.  Is it beckoning to you because it's pretty? Because it's stylish? Because it's a shorthand for something you want to say about yourself? Is it exotic and therefore more interesting because you haven't made contact with your own culture more deeply?

There are problems, serious problems, in the legacy of the US and the rest of the Americas. Plundering the nice bits out of Frida Kahlo's visual legacy is a kind of stealing of soul that I can't participate in.   Frida DIED from the pneumonia exacerbated during her last act of public appearance - a protest of US intervention in Guatemala.

That's missing from the happy Etsy Frida.

1 comment:

  1. I love this post.

    I have a hard time appreciating the appropriation of anything and everything in the name of art, especially the haphazard slapdash way it's handled in the mixed media world, so go you. I think we could all use a little more education, study, and intention and a little less "it's okay to play," anyway. The Frida thing, unfortunately, becomes more about the monobrow and less about the message, which is bananas.