Today’s favorite buzzword is “brand.” It’s the path to internet fame. It’s the style of a designer or writer’s work. It’s how and why you present yourself to your public, whether that’s an audience of friends, colleagues, or hundreds of thousands of YouTube subscribers. In that sense, the late Mexican modernist artist Frida Kahlo had today’s best marketing tool down pat.
Kahlo was a self-declared Communist who lived through the Mexican Revolution (1910 to 1920), and her likeness is now recognized around the world. But as shown in two major exhibitions opening this month, her distinctive Tehuana clothing (native to Oaxaca), unibrow, and bright red lipstick were more than just a fashion statement; they were a political statement that is reflected in her paintings, and one that still challenges us today.
“Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving” at the Brooklyn Museum (February 8 to May 12) and “Frida Kahlo and Arte Popular” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (February 27 to June 16) explore the multifaceted artist beyond her biography and her much-publicized relationship with muralist Diego Rivera. Curators Catherine Morris and Lisa Small of the Brooklyn Museum have focused their show on Kahlo’s clothing and personal items, including loans from her Blue House in Mexico City that have never been displayed in the United States.
In Boston, curator Layla Bermeo emphasizes the inspiration Kahlo found in folk art and her Mexican identity.