Frida Kahlo took selfies (self-portraits) way before the word ‘selfie’ was named by Oxford Dictionaries as word of the year in 2013.
Her unmistakable look is recreated almost every year by artists and on runways by one fashion designer or the other. So, this year’s Halloween has been quite a chic affair as I decided to channel my inner Frida along with my dog Lady Okja playing Frida’s pet spider monkey Fulang Chang.
During her short 47-year life, Frida Kahlo produced 181 paintings out of which 55 of them feature spider monkeys. Frida kept monkeys as pets at her now famous house Casa Azul in Coyoacán. Her monkeys, she said, symbolised the children that she was never able to bear because of horrific injuries she had suffered in a bus accident in 1925, which led to medical complications.
Both Frida and her husband Diego Rivera became obsessive collectors of pre-Columbian artifacts and monkeys also had a strong symbolic importance in pre-Columbian society. Frida, forever alert to the artistic politics of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1940) and its celebration of pre-Hispanic peoples, considered pre-Hispanic art to be the foundational source for all Mexican art.
In the Aztecs’ world, monkeys are an important presence. They were the gods of fertility, noted for their cheeky lasciviousness and uninhibited sexuality, and they were also intimately connected with dance and the arts.
One of the Aztec calendars even had a day, Ozomatli, dedicated to monkeys and linked to the god of flowers and song. For Frida, whose public profile rested heavily on carefully constructed performances and costuming, there was no better symbol of her transgressive sexuality and her longed for (but never realised) fecundity.
Frida Kahlo today is as much a symbol of feminism as she is of pop culture. Her commodification has been a quick and brutal one; from skirts and saree blouses to macrame wall hangings and customised Vans shoes, you can get literally anything with Kahlo’s face printed, painted or embroidered on.
Kahlo is a world-renowned artist for good reason. She is one of the few Mexican artists to gain idolisation on a global level and her work – deeply embedded in her Latin heritage – is a reflection of her womanhood and her culture.
Saludo a Frida Kahlo! And Happy Halloween everyone!!