As you see yourself, I once saw myself; as you see me now, you will be seen.
      Mexican Proverb


México is the most populous Spanish-
speaking country in the world. According to the latest statistics, México's total population is over 99 million. Mestizos, of Indian and Spanish blood), make up 60% of the population, followed by indigenous peoples  (30%), whites (9%), and other ethnic minorities  (1%).

Carnaval in Mazatlan

Visitors and locals scream, sing, shout and dance amid confetti and ribbons. Bands of all kinds play the infectious rhythms of the State of Sinaloa. And the food–oh, the food–camarones (shrimp) prepared in every way possible, washed down with ice cold Pacifico beer, for it’s Carnaval Time, Mazatlán’s biggest pachanga (fiesta). 
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March 12, 2006


by Ron Butler

Frida Kahlo in 1941The frenzy that was Frida Kahlo several years ago and then died off somewhat, has erupted again. A new film about the tragic surrealist artist, wife of famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, is scheduled for U.S. release in October.

Once again, Fridamania merchandise -- T-shirts, posters, Frida and Diego salt and pepper shakers, furniture designs, calendars, key rings, ashtrays, jewelry, dolls and figurines -- is being dusted off and placed on front shelves.

In the spring of 2000, an early Frida self-portrait sold for over 5 million dollars at Sotheby's in New York, setting a new world record for Latin American art, a new record for Frida and a new record for any female artist.

Last June, the U.S. post office issued a 34-cent commemorative stamp featuring a 1934 self-portrait by the artist, the first time a Hispanic woman has been recognized on a U.S. stamp. Kahlo also gets superstar billing in Mexico City, where her former house and studio in the trendy San Angel district is now open to the public.

It adjoins the long-popular Diego Rivera Studio Museum which occupies the Mexican muralist's former home and workplace he shared with Kahlo just after their marriage in 1929. I visited the new museum on a recent trip to Mexico City and came away, as always, awed and dazzled. One doesn't experience Kahlo lightly. It's like plunging into the epicenter of a starburst. The crucible of this talented couple's genius, their former home-turned-museum is considered the first example of avant-garde architecture in Mexico.

Both three-story houses were designed in Bauhaus style by artist Juan O'Gorman, a long-time friend of Rivera's. The second house, which was exclusively Kahlo's (Rivera liked lots of guests around; Kahlo preferred to work alone) had been closed for 25 years and was used primarily for storage.

After extensive restoration, including an exterior coat of cobalt blue paint trimmed in red to match Frida's Casa Azul, the Blue House, in Coyoacan, it becomes part of what has been known since 1958 as the Diego Rivera Studio Museum. The combined facility is now called The Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Studio-House Museum.

The two houses are connected by a second-floor walkway. Their architecture illustrates the independence the couple maintained throughout their caring but unconventional union. Ruth and Guadalupe, Rivera's children from his second wife, Lupe Marin, were frequent visitors, as was Marin herself, who became one of Kahlo's closest friends. In the center of it all, between the tables, chairs, sofas and paint pigments, was that whirlwind of creativity known as Diego Rivera.

While in Mexico City, I called upon one of Frida's former art students, Fanny Rabel, now a painter of considerable renown.

"Frida cared for Diego as though he was her son," she told me. "I viewed Diego as a giant and Frida was fine delicate and enchanting. But he treated her like the heavens and with protection that she needed as a woman with the impediments that she had. Really, she was a very fragile woman, very delicate."

Rivera earned his reputation through mural painting but paid his bills with easel and portrait commissions. Some of his most famous works were completed at the San Angel studio, including "Nude With Gannets," "The Painter's Studio," "Portrait of Dolores Olmeda," "Woman in White" and "The Watermelons." It was also here that he painted family portraits that reflected love and tenderness.

Some of Kahlo's more notable works done here were "The Two Fridas," "Self-Portrait with Monkey," "The Fruit of the Land" and "Little Dead Dimas."

The home became something of a mecca for intellectuals of the day -- writers Pablo Neruda, Andre Breton, John Dos Pasos and Waldo Frank, artist Henry Moore, photographers Edward Weston, and Manuel Alvarez Bravo, celebrated actresses Dolores del Rio, Maria Felix and Paulette Goddard.

Among the many famous houseguests was film star Edward G. Robinson and his wife Gladys. While Kahlo entertained Mrs. Robinson on the roof terrace of her house, Rivera, always his wife's biggest fan, showed the actor some of her paintings. Robinson bought four of them for 200 dollars each, at the time Kahlo's most substantial sale.

It is not surprising that the San Angel home would be unveiled as yet another Kahlo shrine. Interest in her life and work of late, a phenomenon known within art circles as Fridamania, has been nothing short of phenomenal.

"Frida was very beautiful and charming and funny," said her former student Fanny Rabel. "She had a good sense of humor. And this is an amazing quality for a person that suffered everything."

The Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Studio-House Museum is at Diego Rivera 2, San Angel (Mexico City).

Ron Butler is the author of Dancing Alone in Mexico, a travel narrative recently published by the University of Arizona Press. He lives in Tucson.


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