For my 36th birthday, my family took me to the Detroit Institute of Arts to see the Frida & Diego in Detroit exhibit. I’m not a huge fan of Diego Rivera, though I certainly do appreciate his work. Rivera Court is nothing short of mind blowing, if only looking at the scale of it, not to mention the incredible skill. But Diego simply isn’t my favorite. He isn’t Frida.
I don’t think I could ever keep it secret how much I adore Frida Kahlo. Being given the opportunity to see her work was like spending time with her. I could feel her presence in the room with me, speaking to me personally, inviting me in. The tough part was sharing her with so many other people when I really just wanted to be alone with her for a while… to feel her more intimately.
In lieu of this, I still connected with her. The presence of other humans did not detract from her beauty, or her voice… And, for a few moments, there was a special bond that I experienced with the other women there. No one spoke of it, but it was very loud, and it all came about because of one little painting.
It was so interesting to watch and to participate in this… through the whole exhibit, people dodged eye contact, avoided standing too close to each other, acted as though the many others in the room did not exist. And yet, where this painting was concerned, the women couldn’t get close enough. At all times, it seemed that we packed in like sardines. It was okay to be too close, to have our shoulders touching, to lean in to the point where your face was only inches from a perfect stranger’s face. Here the closeness to others… more specifically to other women… felt necessary. Though others bustled behind us, casually glancing over our shoulders, or perhaps passing up the opportunity to look at this very small, yet incredibly powerful work — those who did look, did so in silence, and lingered there.
My own love affair with Frida began more than 10 years ago, but until this weekend my connection felt a little lacking. There was always a desire to know her better. I have read books; I have been to Mexico (though not to her home… that is a huge dream of mine that I mean to fulfill!!!); I have been in awe of her life since I became aware of it; and my family has a connection to her through Diego Rivera. A Rivera print from the 30’s or 40’s has hung in my father’s childhood home since he was a boy. The story goes that during a vacation to Mexico, my grandfather (1896-1971) encountered Rivera and struck up a conversation. The two hit it off and the painter gave him a print. Both of my grandparents are long buried, so whether or not this is true will never be known, but I choose to believe it is. I like let my imagination carry the encounter, thinking that perhaps Frida was there. That, perhaps they met and shook hands and that moment was passed through my bloodline. In this way, I can curl up with her like an old friend–one of those with whom you feel such a strong kinship that you actually miss them in a physical sense, and long for your next encounter because you know that you will experience wholeness for a time. I feel this bond with Frida. Though her body perished long ago, her spirit still moves here. She is, in the very best sense of the word, immortal. May we all pour as much of ourselves into life as she did.
PS — As I walked the Frida exhibit, one of my own paintings sold!