Monday, January 30, 2012

fruit and doves and blood and body parts

I’ve always liked the color and precision of Frida Kahlo’s paintings, and I probably dress as much like her as a white girl can get away with (though in dressing like an indigenous peasant, Frida was arguably an appropriator herself—but at least she had the revolutionary chops to back it up). But I never really felt like I had the right to be as Frida-crazy as, say, my grad school friend who had a tattoo of the MEChA logo and spent a few months in the jungles with the Zapatistas. So I resisted the urge to run out and buy me a Frida tote bag (though when I got one as a party favor, I was really excited).

And then I read The Lacuna.

Barbara Kingsolver makes Frida come alive as a person betrayed by her body and her loved ones, who responded with passion, humor, stubbornness, ruinous pride or shameless dramatic gestures. I have no idea if this is what Frida was actually like, but I fell in love with Frida the character.

Suddenly I saw the blood and body parts in her paintings not as goth accessories to offset all the fruit and doves, but as, well, blood and body parts.

She had several miscarriages, and predictably, this was where I connected. Yesterday I got to see some of her paintings at LACMA’s In Wonderland exhibit of American and Mexican female surrealists (specific, no?). I stood in front of Sun and Life, in which a three-eyed sun glows in front of vulva-like pods, one of which contains a grotesque fetus, and I cried. I always thought crying at paintings was something only a really pretentious person would do, or rather pretend to do, because no one would ever actually do that, right?

But I could write a list poem called “Public Places I’ve Cried.” I feel like I should be more embarrassed than I am about it. There are a thousand things I care way too much about, and apparently this is just not one of them.

I also encountered other surrealists whose work I quickly developed crushes on: Gertrude Abercrombie, who looks like she’s about to strangle herself with her own black demon hands in Self-portrait of My Sister, and Remedios Varo, whose Celestial Pablum says a thing or two about the dark truths of art-making. (Also, she has an awesome name and there’s a great photo of her with a cat that I totally can’t find online.)

I love how all of them are like, “Oh, so there’s something about my life and soul you find unsavory? Tough cookies, mister. You’re going to look at it.” Except they don’t really use the phrase “tough cookies.”


raardvarks said...

LOVE LOVE Remedios Varo zomg!! My roommate has a big expensive book about her which I steal sometimes :)

Cheryl said...

Yeah, all sorts of witchy goodness there. I'm shocked she's not all over tote bags too.