La Casa Azul or how Frida Kahlo was taken from us
This past Sunday, Felipe showed me a photo of a porcelain figure in the local newspaper’s supplement. I recognized it immediately as the image of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo with hair braided into a crown atop her head, adorned with pink flowers and a proud mono-brow.
Opening a journal from 1978, I read how, only days after we met that December, Felipe took me to the house of a painter I had never heard of that used to be a friend of his aunt’s in the thirties and forties of last century.
Frida Kahlo lived with her husband, the well-known painter and muralist Diego Rivera, in a house with bright blue walls in the Coyacan area of Mexico City, not too far from where Felipe grew up. We were the only visitors there and he guided me through the ‘Casa Azul’, as if it were his own.
The rooms were filled with numerous Mexican artefacts that Frida and Diego had collected, an unusual and wonderful mixture of pre-Colombian statues in the shape of dogs and worriers and local handicrafts.
Because she was ill for so much of her life Frida Kahlo’s bedroom became part of her daily world and Felipe's aunt would visit her there. On the underside of the bed canopy a mirror was hung so that she could paint her self-portraits. Her paintbrushes, paints, and diary were still there and her headboard was covered with photographs of loved ones and political idols: Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao.
Felipe explained that the black clay bowls on the table came from Oaxaca, the green glazed clay pineapples and gourds from Michoacán, and that the bright yellow and pink hanging containers were called piñatas. They would be filled with candy and at birthday parties children take turns hitting them with a stick. He told me that as a boy he was too shy to hit them with enough force to break.
As Felipe was talking it felt completely natural that what was part of his life would also become part of mine, a feeling I had never had with anyone before.
Frida Kahlo has since become much more famous than her husband, and her image can be found on t-shirts, shopping bags, tattoos, a U.S. postal stamp, bars of soap, murals, an emoji, and now a porcelain Lladró bust in a limited edition of 250.
Something has been taken from us now that the person so connected to that cherished memory has been turned into an international branding tool. Devoid from her art and political activism Frida Kahlo has become a Mexican version of Hello Kitty, no longer the artist whose house opened an important part of Felipe’s world to me.
It makes my journal entry from more than forty years ago all the more treasured.