A New Look At Frida Kahlo’s Groundbreaking Work

GBH’s Executive Arts Editor Jared Bowen explores Frida Kahlo’s groundbreaking legacy, and an exhibit that traces the cultural and historical impact of hair.

Frida Kahlo: POSE” on display at the Rose Art Museum until Dec. 19

Although Frida Kahlo was not a famous artist during her lifetime, Bowen notes, a painting by the Mexican artist is expected to sell for an estimated $30 million at auction next week. How did she become so prolific? “Frida Kahlo: POSE,” now on display at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, takes a new look at the artist’s groundbreaking career by exploring how the relationship between art and photography influenced her work.

Posing for a camera, Bowen said, was a way for Kahlo to frame her physical self after suffering from polio and a horrific bus accident. “It’s around this time that she turns to the dress of Mexico’s indigenous women — mainly through the area of Oaxaca, Mexico — and she sculpts herself,” Bowen said. “And so, as she becomes this personality, it’s a way to draw attention from the things that she may have allowed to bother her at one point to become an even stronger artist.”

Gannit Ankori, the museum’s chief curator, says Kahlo’s work reflects larger human questions. “She really teaches us a lot about ourselves,” Ankori told Bowen. “What does it mean to be a woman with a mustache? What does it mean to be a Mexican woman in the United States where you stand out? What does it mean to be a ‘mestiza’? What does it mean to be disabled? Because she created a visual vocabulary to articulate what it means to be all these things, we have a way of understanding being.”

A black and white photo of a women with sculptural hair.

J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere

Hair Stories,” on display at the Newport Art Museum until Oct. 31

Hair is an integral part of human history, and as artist Sonya Clark told Bowen, hair is an intimate medium to tell stories: It literally contains our DNA. “Hair Stories,” on display at the Newport Art Museum, features artists exploring the cultural and historical impact of hair through sculpture, photographs and video. “There are a lot of Black artists telling stories of their heroism, of this reclamation,” Bowen says.

Many of the featured contemporary artists have used hair as a jumping off point for cultural discussions, Senior Curator Francine Weiss explained. “We have a number of artists incorporating either actual Black hair into their artworks, as well as artists using synthetic hair to weave sculptures and kind of bring Black beauty supplies and Black hair into art objects to kind of give them a place of fine arts,” Weiss said.

When did you first discover Frida Kahlo’s work?Tell Jared about it on Facebook or Twitter!

Robert G. Mull

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