Visiting Frida Kahlo on the Día de Muertos

The "frog-shaped" per-colombian urn on the left contains Frida's ashes.

The “frog-shaped” per-Colombian urn on the left contains Frida’s ashes.

I looked at the ancient frog-shaped Mayan jar on Frida‘s dresser again; according to the excellent Museo Frida Kahlo’s audio guide this is the final resting place of the revolutionary artist who had asked for her ashes to be put in a jar in the shape of a “frog” after cremation. The “frog” was the nickname of her (in)famous and beloved husband, Diego Rivera! I felt it was perfect that I was visiting Frida’s home and thinking about her life and death on the Dia de Muertos or Day of the Dead weekend.

Frida's half-full colors in her workshop.

Frida’s colors in her workshop.

Frida Kahlo is hard to categorize. Even today, after more than 60 years since her death, she is as avant-garde and relevant as ever. While the artistic style and political stance of many of his contemporary popular artists, not least of which Diego Rivera, has gone out of fashion, her art and life are still fresh like the flowers that adorn the garden at her museum. Frida’s art was full of complementing contrasts: Her artistic vision was distinctly Mexican but also multicultural (she had both Jewish and indigenous roots) and informed by latest European styles (Marcel Duchamp described her as a “Surrealist” which she did not like); her painting technique was influenced by traditional folk Mexican-Christian Ex-voto and Retablos paintings, as well as, (at the time very recent) photographic methods. In her life, she was deeply in love with her consistently unfaithful husband, Diego, and also had numerous affairs with both men and women (including possibly the American painter Georgia O’Keiff). Throughout her life, she lived in physical and mental pain and yet she loved life and its pleasures. In short, she transcended boundaries both in art and life and has been an inspiration to artists, feminists, revolutionaries, people with disabilities and many others.

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Frida’s brushes

La Casa Azul is where Frida was born, her childhood home and where she lived with her husband for most of her life and, finally, where she died. Visiting here is like going to a temple of art and life. Every corner from the exotic and earthly garden to the traditional kitchen to the room where Frida worked emanate with a vital pregnant energy that seems to sing, “in life and art, the possibilities are endless!”

Frida's wheelchair and canvas

Frida’s wheelchair and canvas

A particularly touching spot in the house is Frida’s workshop, where a collection of her colors and brushes sit next to her wheelchair. Frida’s life was full of pain; she contracted polio when she was young. It damaged her spinal cord and affected her leg. Additionally, when she was a teenager she was in a horrendous car accident where an iron pole went through her pelvis. She also suffered from a broken spinal cord, broken ribs, collarbone and pelvis. These injuries led to lifelong pain and an inability to give birth. In addition to these physical pains, she was deeply hurt by Diego’s unfaithfulness, including his affair with her sister. Finally, she had a miscarriage (due to the injuries above) in the States that deeply scarred her spirit. Despite these, Frida’s life was also full of joy; from her childhood she had a wild imagination that became her best friend when she was bedridden; she had many comrades, friends and lovers; and she also knew how to enjoy good music, mezcal and dance; one of her last paintings feature juicy watermelons with the phrase “long live life!” carved into them.

"Long live life!"

“Long live life!”

Frida and Diego were deeply interested in Mexican history and art and their house is full of ancient sculptures and pottery. A few days prior to visiting there, I had visited the extraordinary Museo Nacional de Antropologia where a mind-blowing collection of artifacts from Mexico’s amazingly rich history and culture beckons. There, I came face to face with mysterious men, women and creatures of a distant magical past; a past that seems to have had lived on to some extent in the fiery blood of Frida.

Mayan Statue at the National Museum of Anthropology

Mayan Statue at the National Museum of Anthropology

Many prominent artists, politicians and revolutionaries passed through Frida and Diego’s house of joy and pain. Among them was an elderly Leon Trotsky (the Russian revolutionary dissident) who had a brief affair with Frida and who lived nearby in a house turned into office. Today, this is the Trotsky House Museum where you can visit his office where a Stalinist assassin killed him with a pickax.

Trotsky's Office where he was assassinated

Trotsky’s Office where he was assassinated

After visiting the Trotsky House Museum, I walked to the center of the Coyoacán neighborhood. This neighborhood, whose name means “place of the coyotes”, used to be (and still is) a bohemian corner of Mexico City where artists and revolutionaries lived. I soon realized that I had unknowingly walked into one of Mexico City’s important Day of the Day celebration spots. Many families had dressed up in costumes ranging from traditional skeletons to gory monsters and everything in between. It was really nice to see whole families dressed up with complex makeup and costumes walking down the street. There was music and much laughter and stalls set up that sold everything from hot chocolate and sugar skulls to the Pan de Muerto or Bread of the Dead, which of course I tried. After walking around for about an hour I walked back to the metro and back to my accommodation for a night of restful dreams full of happy dancing skeletons!

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Altar for the day of the dead

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