“Frida Kahlo used the camera in the hands of others to define her image,” says Penelope Hunter-Stiebel, curator of the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art’s new exhibit ‘Mirror, Mirror: Photographs of Frida Kahlo.’ “From the age of 18 she stared the camera down, looking directly into it. She never smiled for the camera.”
More than 50 black and white photographs and a few color images taken of Kahlo, a painter in her own right and the wife of Mexican painter Diego Rivera, are on display in this special exhibit on loan from Throckmorton Fine Art in New York that opens at the museum on May 6. Lola and Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Imogen Cunningham, Carl Van Vechten and Nickolas Muray are some of the photographers whose works are in the show.
The Museum of Spanish Colonial Art also has added a selection of large scale photographs by William Frej of Casa Azul, the Kahlo family home and now the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City, and a group of works (bultos, retablos) created in homage to Frida by artists from Santa Fe’s Spanish Market to the exhibit.
Born in the Mexico City borough of Coyoacán, Kahlo suffered from polio during childhood and at the age of 18 was seriously injured in a traffic accident that caused her pain and medical problems for the rest of her life.
In the initial years of Kahlo and Rivera’s marriage during the early 1930s, Kahlo often accompanied her husband to his commission locations. “In images of their first trip to the United States, we see Frida literally clinging to Diego,” Hunter-Stiebel adds.
The couple, who lived very separate lives for most of their marriage, divorced in 1939 and remarried in 1940. Even though Kahlo’s health issues became almost all-consuming by 1950, she continued to paint when she could. A week after her 47th birthday, Kahlo died in the home in which she grew up in Mexico City.
Several photos in the exhibit show her open coffin, while one captures Rivera as the lead pallbearer.