Sounds of Cultura (SOC): Frida Kahlo

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Frida Kahlo de Rivera was a Mexican painter who is best known for her self-portraits. The Heard Museum is celebrating Frida Kahlo’s life, art and passion with the opening of two exhibits: Frida Kahlo–Her Photos and
Las Favoritas de Frida: Selections from the Heard Collection.
Janet Cantley, curator for the Heard Museum and Kathy Cano-Murillo, one of the Phoenix Fridas discuss the exhibits.

JOSE CARDENAS: Frida Kahlo DE Rivera, born Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo Y Calderon, was a Mexican painter who is best known for her self-portraits. The Heard Museum is celebrating Frida Kahlo's life, art, and passion at the end of the month with the opening of two exhibits. Joining me to talk about this is Janet Cantlie, curator for the heard museum and Kathy Cano Murillo, known as the crafty chica, and she is also one of the Phoenix Fridas. Thank you both for joining us on "Horizonte."


JOSE CARDENAS: Let's talk about the photo exhibition. This is something that what, 2007, is when these photographs were revealed to the world?

JANET CANTLIE: Exactly. There was an archive that was kept locked away for 50 years and they opened up the closet where photographs and some clothing and personal items were kept. And they -- the Bluehouse Museum, outside of Mexico city, has organized that traveling exhibit that we are showing at the heard museum.

JOSE CARDENAS: And you say Bluehouse Museum, it was her house --

JANET CANTLIE: Exactly. She was born there, and lived there for most of her life and also died there.

JOSE CARDENAS: And this is -- these are photographs of one of the most photographed women in the 20th century, and into the 21st Century. We have some of the images, but there is a total of what, 200 --


JOSE CARDENAS: Tell us a little before we show the images about the exhibit itself and how it got started and where it has been.

JANET CANTLIE: Okay. The exhibit has traveled globally. It has been in Germany and Portugal and it has been to the United States just a few places. It has been to Nevada and Virginia and California. So, we're the first in the southwest that will be showing the exhibit and we're excited to have it here. The exhibit is organized into six sections by the curator, Pablo Ortiz Monasterio, and he is showing photographs not taken by Frida Kahlo, but they are a combination of photographers. Some of them really well recognized like Edward Westin, Manuel and Lola Alvarez Bravo,

JOSE CARDENAS: Tina Modotti.

JANET CANTLIE: Exactly, Tina Modotti, who Frida studied under and learned a lot about photography but also Frida Kahlo's father, who was a photographer, and he is the one that started her in art and she would touch up his photographs and that's her first start at painting, when she was about eight years old, she was working in the studio with him and accompanied him on his trips around Mexico city taking photographs.

JOSE CARDENAS: And you mentioned organized around six themes, time periods in her life.


JOSE CARDENAS: Give us a summary of that.

JANET CANTLIE: There is the theme of origins, which talks about her family, her family history. There is one that focuses on Casa Azul, photographs of the courtyard and the house that she grew up in. There's one that's on politics, revolutions and Diego, a section on FRIDA's loves, a section on photography.

JOSE CARDENAS: Before we put the images on the screen, I want to talk to you, Kathy, about the other part of the exhibit, which is taken from the heard museum's collection.


JOSE CARDENAS: Things that are the kinds of things that your group, things that Frida Kahlo would have.

KATHY CANO MURILLO: We had the Phoenix Fridas here, and Janet reached out to us to be a part of the exhibit and have our own show. We got to put our blue gloves on and pick out items that spoke to us individually that related to Frida that we thought maybe Frida would have in her house or have as inspiration. Each of us went and picked something out of the collection. We wrote a little summary about it, and it just added that local personal touch of local, you know, Latina artists and excited about the exhibit being in our town.

JOSE CARDENAS: And there is a lot of excitement, of course, because it is Frida Kahlo, she seems to be everywhere these days, the exhibition in New York as well of her garden. Let's take a look at the images. The first picture is one I think of her painting a portrait of her father Giro.

KATHY CANO MURILLO: Right. This is a photograph that was taken in 1951, and it was about 10 years after her father had passed away. I really like the photograph because it talks about that connection that she had with her father and he was very important to her and mutually he with her. She was the selected daughter, the favorite daughter, and so he worked very closely with her and encouraged her not only in the arts, but in sports and all sorts of activities.

JOSE CARDENAS: And he himself was a noted photographer.


JOSE CARDENAS: And his father as well. Hungarian immigrant?


JOSE CARDENAS: So, the next image we have is by one of the famous photographers that you mentioned. And this one -- I think is by Lola Alvarez Bravo.

JANET CANTLIE: Right. And that is taking in the courtyard of CASA Azul -- she is sitting with one of her pets. As many people know, she loved her animals. She had monkeys, parrots, osprey, a small deer.

JOSE CARDENAS: Which is also a reflection of her connection to her Mexican ancestry. Or in her country, her new country that her father chose, because those were developed -- it goes back to the time of the Aztecs.

JANET CANTLIE: Right. You can see the -- art going back for thousands of years.

JOSE CARDENAS: We have another picture that we want to put up on the screen. This one was taken by her father of her.

JANET CANTLIE: Right, at age five.

JOSE CARDENAS: Actually, anonymous in terms of who the photographer was. And this is her as a little girl.

JANET CANTLIE: Right. About five years old. Probably a year before she had polio.

JOSE CARDENAS: And she suffered a terrible accident as well, which is what put her in the condition that is reflected in the exhibition of her in bed, painting in bed, because she was bedridden for many years.

JANET CANTLIE: She had a lot of obstacles and challenges and I think that is why she is an inspiration with so many, how she overcame those obstacles, physical or emotional pain that she suffered -- and I think that is really inspirational.

JOSE CARDENAS: And this is the one I was referring to before, people really need to go to get the full flavor. A picture by her father.

JANET CANTLIE: Right. Earlier you referred to her indigenous background and she chose to dress in indigenous clothes, even though it was not of a fashion in that time. People were looking to Paris and Hollywood in terms of the style of dress. She referred back to her parents. Her mother, she dressed in the indigenous style.

JOSE CARDENAS: Kathy, we have images of the things that you and your colleagues picked out. We will put them up on the screen and, again, these came from the heard's collection.


JOSE CARDENAS: The first one, it looks like a necklace. Again, these aren't her things, but it is the kind of thing that you think she would have chosen. Tell us about this one.

JANET CANTLIE: It is actually from the Fred Harvey fine art collection at the heard museum. It is an early piece. What we loved about having the Phoenix Fridas when Kathy came into the collection area with the gloves on, she said she felt like Frida's personal shopper they picked out pieces that Frida --

KATHY CANO MURILLO: That is what it felt like.

JANET CANTLIE: What Frida would wear, the style of clothing, jewelry, and also the collections of folk art that she and her husband Diego Rivera showed around their home.

JOSE CARDENAS: As one of the Fridas, what does this piece say to you?

KATHY CANO MURILLO: This piece is all about style and just being bold, being out there like you said the way that she dressed, she didn't follow trends. She was a Trail Blazer and stuck with being authentic of what she liked and honoring her culture and celebrating it and being fearless about that, and not worrying about what people thought. And that to me is timeless for us as artists today, there is so much pressure to conform and with social media looking at likes and shares and this and that, and Frida is a reminder to just get rid of all of that and go with your gut and your feeling, your emotion, and create and so when I see those pieces that we picked from the collection, the hardest part was just choosing one to represent that connection with her, and I picked a ceramic tree of life sculpture, and it was just so busy and so colorful and I thought, you know, it relates to me because I'm generally a happy person and I love the color, but it is very complex and that relates to Frida and her life of we each have a different tree of life that tells a complex story with, you know, a balance of dark and light, and so that was the piece that I chose to represent and the necklace was from another Frida who specializes in jewelry. She makes jewelry and

JOSE CARDENAS: Would that be Carmen Guerrero?

KATHY CANO MURILLO: Yeah, and that way it was -- people can look at those pieces and then understand who we are, here in Phoenix, of how we relate to Frida and are inspired by her and hopefully they can see that connection and start their own collective or group or friends to get together and create art and be true to themselves like Frida was.

JOSE CARDENAS: You talk about the jewelry kind of representing her letting it all hang out and stuff like that. The next two images that we have, traditional pottery, the kind of things she and her husband collected and exhibited around the country. This piece, tell us a story about this one.

JANET CANTLIE: This one was purchased with funds from the friends of Mexican art in 1979. We are grateful to that organization. We have over 430 pieces in the Heard collection that was purchased with funds from FOMA. This one made by a woman, Theodora Blanco, and what we loved about it was the fact that it is a female form, almost totem like and she has the -- on her head and on her shoulders, playing guitars and music of course and celebration was very important -- and their home life, and then there is -- middle section, and at the bottom what looks like could be a reptilian form like perhaps a toad, and of course that was a nickname that -- her mother called --

JOSE CARDENAS: He looked like one.

KATHY CANO MURILLO: Emily Costello chose -- and she is I like this because it is kind of weird. And we said that represents all of us as artists. It is really cool but it is also kind of freaky.

JOSE CARDENAS: We have another piece, another piece of pottery. This is a jar or a jug.

JANET CANTLIE: Right. Again, it was one of the selections made by the Phoenix Fridas, and it is Gloria. And she liked it partly because of the portrait and she also said -- she thought that Frida would relate to it because it look -- Diego --

JOSE CARDENAS: Anything else on this one, Kathy?

KATHY CANO MURILLO: I just love --

JOSE CARDENAS: The face is very striking.

KATHY CANO MURILLO: I love -- the interpretation. Everyone sees something different. That beauty, and connection, personality.

JANET CANTLIE: Other thing pointed out to me, so many of these pieces we have as art pieces in our collections area, but they're utilitarian and they would be used -- but for example that previous piece -- as a water pitcher, and I thought that was a nice observation and it is not just art, but also to be used.

KATHY CANO MURILLO: Functional, yes.

JOSE CARDENAS: And finally, we have the tree of life that you were talking about earlier, Kathy. This is the piece that you chose. And it really spoke to you in many ways. We will put that picture up now. And tell us again -- I'm getting word that we don't have that one. But you gave a beautiful description of it. And it is also very traditional Mexican item.

KATHY CANO MURILLO: Yes, I mean, we have seen tree of lives forever, just not only in the actual art pieces, but just the whole concept of living and in pop culture and history, everything. But it is something about those Mexican sculptures that show the beauty of it with the leaves and Adam and eve and the fruit and all of it is just so gorgeous and reminds us of the color and the candle holders to bring the light into our lives. And it's something to be really proud of, and I -- I love that piece because I feel like even though we know so much about the tragedies that Frida went through, she also had light in her life at times, too. And I like to draw on that and say Frida, you know, I'm drawing lights of happiness that you had and celebrating them.

JOSE CARDENAS: We're almost out of time. What is going to GO on at the opening and a couple of first Fridays in there as well.

JANET CANTLIE: Right. Opening, a big celebration. We are really looking forward to it. We will have music in the courtyard. We will also have a photo booth and people can put their Frida on and put on a floral crown and get their photos taken. And we have all sorts of things in our shop. We have the catalog that accompanies the exhibit as well as a lot of Frida items.

JOSE CARDENAS: A lot of things to see and do.

JANET CANTLIE: Definitely.

JOSE CARDENAS: Sounds great. Thank you for joining us.

KATHY CANO MURILLO: Thank you so much.

VIDEO: Here at "Horizonte" we want it hear from you, comments, story ideas or questions, email us.

JOSE CARDENAS: And that's our show for tonight. From all of us here at "Horizonte" and your Arizona PBS station, thank you for watching. I'm Jose Cardenas. Have a good evening.

VIDEO: Funding for "Horizonte" is made possible by contributions by the friends of eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Captioning Performed by LNS Captioning

Kathy Cano-Murillo: Phoenix Fridas, Janet Cantley: Curator for the Heard Museum

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