It isn’t often that you get the chance to peek into the private side of a cultural icon, but art lovers can rejoice with the new Glenbow Museum exhibit featuring Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Frida Kahlo: Her Photos marks its Canadian debut here in Calgary with an intimate series of Kahlo’s personal photos. The private collection of photos stayed hidden for decades after the artist had passed, but finally was revealed to the public in 2007. With over 6,500 images on record, 241 images were curated by the Frida Kahlo Museum for this exhibit. While Frida Kahlo may have lived a short life, her work and influence is celebrated throughout the world and these photos give a glimpse into the woman and artist behind the paintings.
The exhibit is broken up into six sections: Origins, Casa Azul, Politics, Revolutions and Diego, Her Broken Body, Frida’s Love and Photography. The photos are mostly taken by fellow artists of Frida and her friends and family, but do include a selection of Frida’s own photography as well showcasing another artistic side (photography) to her that many followers may not have known about.
When you make your way to the Frida Kahlo exhibit at the Glenbow, be sure to start your viewing on the south side of the display (south of stairs). While the exhibit is broken up into sections and doesn’t necessarily need to be followed linearly, it makes most sense to start with the Origins section before moving onto other areas on display and it flows most naturally from there. The timeline on the wall of Frida’s life is also helpful to understand her life from her birth in 1907, the polio that plagued her as a child, the bus accident that left her in chronic pain for most of her life, her marriage to muralist Diego Rivera all the way to her death at age 47 in 1954. I made the mistake of starting over in the “Her Broken Body” section without having other context about Frida beforehand.
As someone who had little background knowledge about Frida Kahlo, I found the Her Photos exhibit to be an interesting way to look at an artist without necessarily seeing her work itself. For both casual and dedicated Kahlo fans, the photos offer an amazing glimpse into Mexican culture, history, dress and more in the early 1900s. The photos are small as they often were back in those days, but capture such vivid details that are easy to miss on today’s smartphone snaps. It’s one of the things I missed about my old film camera as I wondered through the exhibit.
There are many photos of Frida throughout each section, some with context, some without. One image that really stood out to me is of Frida is standing on an airline bridge after disembarking from the plane. Here, you see a modern confident woman arriving in the U.S. It’s amazing to see how glamourous, yet intense she was. My favourite section had to be the Casa Azul photos – the “Blue House” era that represented where she was born, raised and died. The entire exhibit consists of black-and-white photos but make sure to look for the one photo that is in color. I really wanted to see Casa Azul for what it really looked like and in that one color photo you can see the home is painted in light blue.
Frida Kahlo: Her Photos will be on display at the Glenbow Museum until May 21st, 2018.