Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Their unique story of love and art has been celebrated in movies and books, but there is always more to discover about Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

Frida types a letter dictated by Diego
protesting the destruction of his fresco
at Rockefeller Center. May 1933, New York.
Anonymous. Newspaper image. 
The two icons of Mexican art are the subject of at least three exhibitions currently taking place in Paris, France, ranging from a huge show of their paintings side by side at the Musée de l’Orangerie to an exposition of period photographs at the Mexican Cultural Institute.

Titled “Complicities”, the photography exhibition in particular will be an eye-opener for those already familiar with Rivera’s larger-than-life murals and Kahlo’s vivid and disturbing portraits.  It puts the artists in their social and historical context, framing them against the background of the Mexican Revolution and the politics of their time.

“The exhibition is a road show that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has put together and it has been shown in other countries, but this is the first time in France," said Sara Valdés, the minister-counselor for cultural affairs at the Mexican Embassy in France and director of the Cultural Institute.

“We have produced this particular show with fresh printings of original photographs because we thought it was very useful to show it during the Diego and Frida art exhibition as it gives the historical perspective to their art in the first half of twentieth-century Mexico,” she told Tasshon.

The remarkable black-and-white photographs, drawn from Mexico’s archives, show the famous couple working together, demonstrating together, and meeting with the leading cultural and political figures of the era.

Frida in the garden
by Leo Matiz (1917-1998)
Xochimilco, Mexico circa 1941
© Foundation Leo Matiz
The exhibition begins with images from the revolution and takes viewers through “the life and the role of this couple, whose work has its background in the Mexican Revolution”, said Valdés.

“Not only were they lovers, militants and painters, but they also symbolized an entire generation of change in modern Mexico,” she added.

Some of the most moving photos in the exhibition show the artists’ final moments. There is Kahlo staring solemnly at the camera in her last public appearance, 11 days before her death in 1954, and a terminally ill Rivera painting in his studio in 1955.

A separate section of the exhibition, billed as a show in its own right, is devoted to the work of the accomplished Colombian-born photographer Leo Matiz, who took personal and “up-close” photographs of the artists on a variety of occasions. These clear, beautifully shot pictures reveal a different side of Kahlo, portraying her in relaxed, feminine poses, or enjoying herself in the company of friends. One photo, on a kind of surreal level, actually looks like a publicity image for the popular film that actress Salma Hayek made about Kahlo’s life.

Matiz’s work is the “jewel in the crown” according to Valdés, and viewers to the exhibition will likely remember these evocative photographs for a long time, especially that of the artists as a young couple – smiling, joyful and seeming to look into the future.  - L. McKenzie

("Complicities: Frida and Diego" runs from 16 Oct. to 20 Dec. 2013)