Created as an adjunct to the Mexican Consulate’s travelling exhibition “Viva Frida!”, “Frida Kahlo’s Mexicanidad” consists of a selection of pre-Hispanic and modern artifacts from our collection. Kahlo and Diego Rivera were keen collectors of pre-Columbian figurines, which are the Barrick Museum’s collection high points.
Frida Kahlo’s Mexicanidad
Both Frida and her husband, Diego Rivera, were deeply inspired by the pre-Hispanic and post-contact folk art of their native Mexico. For Frida, the paintings, sculpture, clothing, and other handicrafts of indigenous Mexico represented a connection to her homeland and its people more profound than mere nationality. She often incorporated pieces from her and Diego’s extensive collection into her paintings.
Frida and Diego’s collection — one of the largest private collections in Mexico — of pre-Columbian artifacts included figurines, carvings, and utilitarian objects from all the Mexican cultures, including Mayan and Aztec pieces, but Frida was especially fond of the West Coast cultures found in modern-day Colima, Jalisco, and Nayarit. Famous for their animal figures, especially dogs like the one featured here, and lifelike human figurines, Western Mexican artifacts figure in many of Frida’s still-lifes as well as in many of her self-portraits. Mexican artifacts provided both a link to an “authentic” Mexican heritage and a foil for Kahlo’s own internal struggles.
Frida found inspiration in her contemporaries as well as in the work of long-dead ancestors. The Mexican retablo tradition was perhaps her biggest influence, both in style and choice of material. Typically painted on small squares of tin, retablos were usually painted as either a plea to a saint for protection or to honor some miraculous event. Frida’s adoption of this style wrapped the mantle of the miraculous around her own suffering and survival, while she tweaked the focus away from the divine and towards the worldly and everyday.
Clothing was also very important to Frida. As an artist who painted primarily self-portraits, Frida used clothing to symbolize her simultaneous desires for independence and interconnectedness. By depicting herself in native Mexican dress, most often Tehuana, Frida was able to link herself to Mexican traditions (which she opposed to the commercialism and greed of the industrial world) while also capturing the strength of native womanhood, much at odds with Western ideals of frail femininity.