Rachel Daichendt, Cohort ’20
It was a bright and clear January day when a group of us visiting Mexico City for the January 2023 residency headed to the vibrant Frida Kahlo Museum, La Casa Azul, in the Colonia del Carmen neighborhood of Coyoacán. Frida Kahlo, a beloved Mexican painter, is abundantly known for her autobiographical self-portraits; her name, image, and memory actively course their way through the historic city. However, as an art historian and teacher, I engaged mainly with her paintings. I was unsure what to expect, nor decidedly excited about the visit. Upon entering the museum, you are quietly guided right into the first room. It was here that I immediately noticed – this was her home, her space where she was born, lived with her family and spouse, and later died. My preconceived notions softened as I was swept up into each room’s offerings, particularly paintings with which I was unfamiliar and personal items that inextricably haunt the space. The painting My Family gave the room a personal feel, and her wheelchair in front of the work felt sentimental and nostalgic, rather than sad or heavy-handed. Both encounters felt unfinished, as a reminder of a life filled with stark ups and downs and perhaps never completely satisfied.
As I made my way through the two-story space, it bears mentioning that it was crowded, shoulder to shoulder with onlookers, which reminded me that I was in a museum and not a home, jerking me back to the regulated space. Regardless, I forged on in hopes of better understanding this woman I interpret as a signifier of pain and trauma. The hints here and there of beloved keepsakes and a personal collection of art from more than just her artist husband Diego Rivera, but significant names such as Isamu Noguchi and Leon Trotsky, brought me back to a place of recognition. Her life was fraught with contentious and diverse relationships, the passion is clearly represented in the bright colors of the space and details of her many self-portraits. I was engaged in the moment, this was her home, where objects are usually thoughtful and an extension of the person that resides there. Thankful that this visit was offering a unique experience, I wandered the grounds looking for more clues to her life.
As a teacher and art lover, but more importantly, as a woman who prides herself in creating thoughtful and endearing spaces of my own, it occurred to me that while I leave with a memory of the space, I also leave a piece of myself there.
I have always included Kahlo as a pillar in my teaching, but being in the city, in her dwelling, gave me a fresh and renewed respect for her work. On a separate day when we visited The Two Fridas from 1939, I looked upon it a bit differently. The angst of divorce as prominent subject matter cannot be denied, but beyond that, the work embodies a split from the self. This split is seen in La Casa Azul, where Frida is at once woman, daughter, wife, artist, lover, and collector. The museum and her paintings, even a remarkable selection of some of her clothing, represent humility and resilience and are obviously deeply honored in her home country and around the world.