The book is an emblem of both the unmistakable face, life and work of the iconic Mexican painter.
Amounting 152 pages, the publication by Taschen displays the most extensive Frida Kahlo study to date. The book compiles a vast selection of Kahlo’s paintings, diary pages, letters, an illustrated biography, plus rarely seen photographs from Edward Weston, Manuel Lola Álvarez Bravo, Nickolas Muray and Martin Munkácsi.
For those unaware of Kahlo’s story, they are sure to be aware of her iconic image which graces, it seems, almost every tote bag, notebook, pin and phone case line at least in the Western world. Recent debates have taken place over her 21st century iconography status with academics and fans alike arguing whether Kahlo, a communist painter and activist, would have approved of such vast commercialism of her own image.
Kahlo was born in Mexico to a German father and Mexican mother of Spanish descent. There are few people who truly embody the phrase ‘ahead of their time’ as much as Kahlo does. A feminist and communist born to an upper class family, Kahlo was a bisexual, disabled woman who fought against fascist regimes and patriarchal restricitions. Kahlo’s work received praise from the French writer, poet and surrealism theorist André Breton, who not only exhibited her work in Paris in 1939 to admirers Picasso, Kandinsky and Duchamp, but he also added her to the ranks of international surrealism.
Going into detail behind each of her paintings, the book discusses the complexity and intentions of both her work and the ways in which Kahlo was “aware of the social and cultural conditions of the country in which she lived, either Mexico or the United States.” states the book’s author, editor and art historian Luis-Martín Lozano: “And, as she embraced cultural traditions, at the same time, had an openness to new ideas, aesthetics and trends. Her uniqueness in art history is not only based in a feminist agenda as it has been stressed out in recent years, but mostly in her capacity to engage in ideological and aesthetic discussions of her time and contemporaries, in subjects such as public art and surrealism, and make them part of her core as an artist.”
Lozano adds; “Her “political agenda about identity, gender, feminism, Marxism and psychology”, says Luis-Martín, has influenced many artists in Mexico and further abroad. This includes the likes of Japanese photographer Yasumasa Morimura, who’s been “working in detail around Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits and the construction of the self against Western conventions of representation.” Kiki Smith, an American contemporary artist, has also worked largely with the woman’s body as a political statement “recognising Kahlo’s work as a starting strategy.”
“Through Kahlo’s work, she has become one of Mexico’s ultimate ambassadors and a torchbearer for freedom and women’s choice with regards to sexuality, reproduction and equal opportunities,” says Luis-Martín on a lasting note about her far-reaching impact. “Further, her paintings have become a subject for interdisciplinary study in sociology and psychology, and for new ways of considering art history. Her paintings pose an open sincerity that create a direct empathy with viewers from all around the globe; her message and intentions have a direct quality of communication.”