I love Frida Kahlo. Love her. Love her artwork, love her story, love her general sassy bad-assery. To say that she inspires me would be a major understatement. I’ve learned scads of life lessons from her, useful things that run the gamut from realizing what a powerful role art can play in the social justice movement to learning that it’s possible to give zero fucks about what anyone else thinks of you and your appearance. If I could sum Frida Kahlo up in two words, they would be: The. Best.
Frida Kahlo is, as the kids these days say, my homegirl.
You can imagine, then, how thrilled I was when the Art Gallery of Ontario announced a major Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera exhibit for the fall of 2012. I tweeted at them that I was going to express my excitement by lighting something on fire; they, in turn, re-tweeted me, which I took as a silent endorsement of my arsonist tendencies. Leading up to the October 20th opening date of the show, I obnoxiously reminded my friends on a regular basis how many days were left until all my dreams would come true.
We have a family membership at the AGO, which means that my husband and I were able to see Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics and Painting at a special members-only preview, a few days before the show opened to the general public. That night was the first time I’d ever seen Kahlo’s paintings in person. To say that I was excited would be like saying that the Pope is Catholic, by which I mean, HELL YEAH I WAS.
I have to admit, though, that I did have a few concerns when entering the gallery that first time. Like fellow Shameless writer Sarah Mortimer, I worried that people would use this exhibit as an opportunity to mock Frida for her appearance - specifically, for her iconic unibrow. Would the rest of the crowd understand why she refrained from waxing or plucking the hair on her face? Would they notice and appreciate the fact that Frida actually emphasized her unibrow and mustache in her paintings, making them thicker and darker than they were in real life? Would they realize how radically subversive she was?
Would they see how beautiful she was?
I was thankful to discover that the answer to those questions was a resounding yes. All around me, I heard people muttering about how lovely she was, how graceful and strong. Not one single person made a remark critical of her appearance. For once, I was happy to be proven wrong.
Unfortunately, I did not hear the same type of comments about Frida’s husband, Diego Rivera.
I’ve been to the Frida & Diego exhibit seven or eight times now, and on every single visit I’ve heard almost exactly the same thing from many, many people:
“God, look at how fat he is. He’s so ugly. What did she ever see in him?” (more inside…)