Captivated with Casa Azul

Hipster: Hipsters are a subculture of men and women typically in their 20’s and 30’s that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter…

Frida Kahlo was the original Hipster before the term Hipster was even created. From her eclectic mix of long dress, hair braids, jangling jewelery, to the varied arty company she kept and her communist political interests, she even had facial hair in places most women would Immac away! Could you imagine bringing Frida forward in time, to be given a camera phone with an Instagram account, she’d have millions of adoring fans viewing her fashionista style on a daily basis.

The allure of the now legendary Frida is evermore popular. At a recent auction a group of letters to one of her lovers José Bartoli, were sold to an American private collector for $137,000 and a new exhibition has just opened in New York City recreating her Mexican Blue House. I was lucky enough to visit her actual home ‘Casa Azul’ in the borough of Coyoacan, which is now The Frida Kahlo Museum on my recent visit to Mexico City.

Stepping through the turnstile you move into the calm garden courtyard. Fern leaves with strong green hues brush up against the vibrant bright blue walls. The sunlight in the courtyard is intense yet is softly filtered through the palms trees, it’s enough to make any budding artist want to sit and paint in an attempt to recreate one of Frida’s complex paintings. There is a pyramid in the centre of the garden where Frida & Diego displayed their collections of pre-columbian statues, a waterfall gently gurgles and it’s all very mesmerising.

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At age 6 Frida developed Polio, which would leave her right leg shorter and thinner than her left leg. At age 18, Frida was the victim of a horrible accident when a bus she was riding crashed into a trolley car. Her injuries included broken ribs, collarbone, pelvis, spinal column, fractures in her legs and the final kicker was that an iron handrail pierced her abdomen and her uterus. Although she survived, Frida underwent 35 operations during her lifetime, endured immense pain and she would never be able to fulfil her desire to complete a pregnancy to full term.

During her long convalescence in a full body cast in her childhood bed at Casa Azul, her parents decorated her room with her favourite items, they installed a mirror on the ceiling of her bed and her father encouraged her to paint. Frida went on to produce 143 paintings, 55 of which are intriguing self-portraits. When asked why she painted so many self-portraits, Frida replied: “Because I am so often alone….because I am the subject I know best.” 

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The highlight of the museum for me was seeing a collection of Frida’s clothing. From the accident Frida suffered ill health all her life, her right leg eventually being amputed a year before her death at age 47. She used her colourful fashion style as a statement of not only her identity and individuality but as a clever way to cover her bodily imperfections and physical pain.

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Frida’s mother was from the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, she was a strong influence on the clothes Frida chose to wear. Frida embraced her heritage by wearing traditional Tehuana style of clothing.

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To disguise her crippled legs and built up right shoe, Frida wore long flowing Enagua skirts with ruffled waistbands. The emphasis of her outfits would always be on her upper body to make her appear taller. Her hair would be braided Tehuana style high on her head and adorned in ribbons and flowers. Her blouse was a traditional Huipil; a short loose fitted tunic decorated with ribbons or strips of patterned fabrics, under her tunic her body cast could be concealed. Bright coloured lace shawls always wrapped around her shoulders. To complete her outfit Frida would accessorise with dangling earrings, chunky necklaces, rings on all her fingers and her striking unibrow completed her fashion statement.

It was written that when Frida visited the Palacio De Bella Artes to view a ballet or opera her arrival was announced by the sound of her jewelery, her flattering Tehuana dress and striking appearance would outshine the grandeur and beauty of the building.

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The Frida and Diego story is intense, passionate and exceptionally interesting, as a Frida fan our visit to the Blue House in Coyoacan was totally magical, a real insight into her short life. Viewing her personal effects displayed in this wonderful museum, I came away with greater admiration for Frida and an urge to try to paint watermelons, I’ll let you know how it goes…

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Frida Kahlo de Rivera : July 6th 1907 – July 13th 1954

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