Go with OOA: Frida Kahlo at the Brooklyn Museum
Earlier this month, Arts Ambassadors Jessica Sun and Alexis Fisher co-led the Go with OOA outing to the Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. Excitingly, there was so much interest in seeing Kahlo’s work that we secured tickets for thirty students to experience the magnificence and excitement that is Frida Kahlo’s life and work.
Jessica: Before arriving at the museum, I had a fun time coming up with trivia questions for our story on the OOA Instagram. Kahlo is generally a pretty well-known figure. Through my own research, I found specifics aspects of her life, such as her love life, her politics, and her disability, that I didn’t know about before. I wanted to see how many people really knew about Kahlo’s life. (You can find the answers to the trivia in our story highlights on Instagram.) Further, I recommend you go online and explore different aspects of her life, as you may find inspiration where you least expected it (I did!).
Alexis: The title of the exhibit, Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving, stuck out to me. Out of all the aspects of Kahlo’s life that the curators could have focused on, they chose the title of the exhibition to be on appearances. Through Kahlo’s outward appearance and style, she is often seen as bold, strong, fearless, independent, and unbreakable. Through suggesting that we must go beyond this picture, the curators want museum-goers to also think about her disability, her perceived weaknesses, her nuances, and her insecurities, as all these qualities made her human, and contributed to her wholeness. There’s danger in only knowing or choosing to learn about one side of a person as it may perpetuate unrealistic standards and false narratives, instead we must seek to know people and all of their complexities. The exhibit presents Frida Kahlo in whole.
Jessica: It was nice to be able to explore the exhibit at my own pace. I didn’t stay with the larger group, but as I walked through the exhibit, I would run into a Hunter student. We chatted and pointed out different elements that stuck out to us within the exhibit.
Alexis: Go with OOA museum outings are so fun, because you get to explore the exhibit with friends. Everyone brings such an interesting perspective to the exhibit and I love hearing other people’s thoughts on what we’re viewing. The Kahlo exhibit was comprehensive as it showcased her possessions, featured her writing, her back braces, photographs from her life, and even video footage from her home, the Blue House in Mexico City.
- While Kahlo spent most of her life in her beloved Coyoacán in Mexico City, she spent time in San Francisco, Detroit, and even in NYC. In SF, her favorite neighborhood was Chinatown. She loved the intricacies, subtle boldness, and delicacies of Chinese clothing. One of her dresses on display even had Chinese embroidery work. She wrote “I am convinced that Mexicans come from China because we are entirely the same kind of people.”
- Kahlo was born to a German father and mestiza mother. It was during Kahlo’s time in the United States that she solidified her style reflective of the indigenous Mexican identity. She did this to deliberately distinguish herself from local women.
- She carefully considered the way she dressed. Her style was expressive of both her political beliefs and her Mexican identity. She also used it as a way to divert attention from her physical disabilities. It is a clear example–but not the only one–of how Kahlo played around with performing identities through fashion, photography, painting, and politics.
- Kahlo explored gender identity. She challenged norms through her artwork, sometime painting herself with feminine features in dresses and other times highlighting her masculine features and painting herself in typical men’s clothing such as suits. She might be considered gender fluid in today’s understanding of gender.
- In Germany during the rise of Hitler and of National Socialism, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera (her husband) claimed Jewish ancestry as an act of solidarity.
- Kahlo’s dresses and outfits are intricate, simple, fancy, and casual. Through each piece, you learn and uncover a little bit more about the different aspects of Frida Kahlo and the ways in which she played with identity.
Our Last Thoughts:
Jessica: Speaking of her disability, as someone with a spinal issue that was bad enough that I wore a back brace for many years, I really appreciated the attention paid to Frida Kahlo’s disability and the ways she adapted around it. She said, “In spite of my long illness, I feel immense joy in living” (A pesar de mi larga enfermedad, tengo alegría inmensa de vivir). Reading the quote made me tear up. Overall, I really enjoyed the exhibit and how it attempted to showcase the many different parts of her identity that shaped who she was and how the public perceived her. There was so much to see that everyone can learn something new about Kahlo, and it offers a great entry-point into learning about her life, what she stood for, and the historical time she was living in. She is truly an inspiring person and so much more than we remember her as.
Alexis: Through the exhibit, I learned about the complexities and intricacies of Frida’s life, as the exhibit most of all highlighted her human-ness. She was trying to understand, or at times not understand, but transcend, what it means to be human. She lived within many dualities (the stagnant and the evolving, the creator and the imitator, the lover and the realist, the pain and the joy), as she navigated a complex, emotional, and changing world. I am inspired by her life and how she infused humor, love, and authenticity into all that she pursued.
“Todo puede tener belleza, aun lo más horrible.” – Frida Kahlo
Everything can have beauty, even the most terrible.
Thanks to all who joined us for this outing! It’s so wonderful connecting with fellow art enthusiasts and Hunter students. We always leave these events with a feeling of community, excited for the next outing!
Check out feedback from other Hunter students and Arts Ambassadors on the “Go with OOA” highlight on our Instagram!
Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving will be on display at the Brooklyn Museum until May 12th. You can purchase tickets and learn more here.