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7 Mexican Artists On How Frida Kahlo Inspired Them

Culture
Photo Via Wikipedia Commons.

In honor of the painter’s birthday

In the decades since her work first started getting international recognition, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo has become an icon to countless people around the world, both for her work and for the way in which she lived her life. And while she’s an inspiration to all, her influence resonates perhaps most intensely with young female Mexican artists.

Of course, influence can be a tricky thing; whereas it is an undeniably powerful thing when individuals are inspired by Kahlo, there can be something disconcerting about some of the "Frida-mania" we are currently experiencing, particularly as it applies to branded products. Painter Yanin Ruibal told us there’s a current fad in Mexico of commercial brands hiring women artists to create Kahlo-esque designs for products. They have good intentions, Ruibal thinks, but something gets lost in the execution. “They want to scream the message that women are great and strong, but visually the designs are stereotypically feminine: pink and flowery,” she says. “And many have simply adopted Frida as their mascot.” One example of this, recalls Ruibal, was a box of feminine hygiene products, stamped with Kahlo's face: “It made me mad, the commoditization of an already fetishized image, completely divorced from her art.”

Illustrator Fher Val has a somewhat different take. “Maybe 80 percent of the people that [use Kahlo's iconography] don’t know about her art or her life; maybe another 15 percent research her and discover my lovely country; and maybe the other 5 percent really want to know more and go to Mexico,” she says. “I’m the kind of person that likes to see the glass half full, so, if Frida is a hook, even though it’s mainstream, for me it doesn’t matters. Let the people know Frida, let them know her art, and let them know the incredible country she was proud of.”

No matter how exactly you feel about the branding of the late artist, Kahlo's ubiquity has inarguably had a huge impact on the generations of artists who followed her. And so, ahead, we chat with seven talented illustrators, painters, and sculptors about how Kahlo has affected their life and work. Read, in their own words, what the artist means to them.

Hilda Palafox, illustrator
“My high school was in the heart of Coyoacán in Mexico City, so I used to walk by La Casa Azul [Kahlo's home] almost every day. Later, when I started my own artistic path, I felt very inspired by her and her work, along with some other great Mexican artists such as Guadalupe Posadas or Nahui Olin.

“I think what inspired me the most is that she was a woman with a lot of character, who developed such a unique voice by not following or trying to fit in any art movement of her time. Also, the fact that, even after all her physical limitations, she kept a very strong soul and continued painting until her death. I think she was one of the first Latin-American woman artists to be recognized worldwide; the first woman to show femininity mixed with Mexican folk culture in such a personal and poetic way.”

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Arantxa Rodriguez, painter, performance artist, and sculptor
I was born and raised in Mexico City, Mexico, so I have been familiar with Frida Kahlo since I was a little girl. Before coming to NYC I worked as a tour guide in the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City; as part of their private collection, they have one of Frida’s most important paintings “Las dos Fridas,” so I got to see how many people were moved by her work. Many came to the museum only to see that one piece (even becoming angry and upset when it wasn’t on display). I think what most moves people about her work is that her paintings are deeply personal and intimate self explorations, even though they appear very surreal.

“Frida is an inspiration because, as a woman and an artist, she broke a lot of barriers. People think she is only an icon because she defied society’s beauty standards, but she was way more than that. She gave us a lesson in resilience when she did not stop after the terrible accident she had when she was 18. Instead of her trauma and pain being an obstacle, she used it to drive her self exploration and art. She was openly bisexual at a time where this was very controversial, and a member of the communist party. Despite all of these radical, controversial things about her, I think all Mexican women admire her strength and feel proud that a Mexican woman achieved international acclaim. In a recent survey of Mexican women, one of the questions was 'which woman you consider an inspiration' and 70 percent of the women wrote Frida.  

“Personally, I also think it's interesting that Frida had this complicated relationship with Diego [Rivera, her husband]. He was a much more accomplished artist when they met, and therefore, really opened the doors for her initially and made her first opportunities as an artist possible. And yet, she is much more popular and well known today than he is.”  

Erika Harrsch, painter, photographer, and sculptor
“When I was starting my career as a young painter in Mexico, Frida was an unquestionable reference, sort of a Wonder Woman of the arts, she was a heroine for having expressed herself with such honesty and strength, among an implacably male-macho-oriented art time, surrounded by the masters-monsters-muralists. As a young female artist, what comes first is the self reference, the self-portrait; and Frida’s own depictions and self-portraiture realm were fascinating and liberating for a young painting student, like I was when I discovered Frida. Her symbolism, her unrestrained figurative representations, the visual honesty in her paintings to express the most intimate aspects of a person's pain, love, life, and death. I did many self-portraits at the beginning of my career, filled with symbolisms and biographical representations. She represents the invincible female persona that was only going to be defeated by illness and death and, even so, she transcended her painful life experiences and turned it into art.” 

Yanin Ruibal, painter
“I have a complicated relationship with Frida. I used to be such a hater and didn’t like Frida at all; I thought she was overrated and was only famous because of her husband. But then, a couple years ago, I got diagnosed with Lyme disease and it got increasingly difficult for me to paint. I’m fatigued all the time and have joint pain everywhere. So, I got a bit depressed for a while, but I decided to adapt and started to illustrate and draw more and more with my iPad Pro from my bed. Having Lyme changed me in many ways, and I grew as a person and as an artist, and I started to feel a wave of affection towards Frida, and admiration because she painted from her bed and nothing could stop her. I started to read more about her, went to her house (now a museum), read her letters, and now I have no doubt she deserves her place in history.” 

“When I started drawing from my bed, I thought of Frida. And while being paralyzed and being chronically ill are different, she motivated me to keep going and use the experiences to hone my craft. At that time, I also remembered her famous quote: ‘I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.’ That’s when I started to make self portraits. Initially, it felt strange. I felt very vulnerable and exposed, but that’s a good thing I guess.” 

Indi Maverick, iIlustrator
“Frida’s art inspired me to do a tribute to all of her fans using my unique style. All of the Mexican women are proud of what she did for our culture. I fight like she did to be recognized and have my own place like other Mexican artists and illustrators. 

“It’s important to note that Frida Kahlo isn’t the only one. It would be nice to make more Mexican contemporary artists popular, have more discussion of what we are doing, and make Mexican art great again.”

Fher Val, illustrator
“When I was eight years old, my aunt took me to the Modern Museum of Art in Mexico City, and showed me for the first time “The Two Fridas” painting. I was shocked. First of all, she was a woman, a Mexican woman and an artist. Since then, I fell in love with Frida’s work and history. She is one of my three muses: Frida Khalo, Remedios Varo, and Leonora Carrington. 

When I grew up and started falling in love and having my heart broken, I started feeling like I was hooked with Frida’s life and love story. She wasn’t afraid to show herself as broken, she was resilient, independent, a dreamer, proudly Mexican, a little bit crazy (in a good way), and madly in love with her art. I admire some paintings for their technique and others for the way she caught aspects of her life.

“For me, she was the inspiration that I needed when I was young, when the internet hadn’t come into my life, and the role models were a little more difficult to find. She made me believe that there was a space for women in the arts.” 

Photos by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for WE Day, Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

He also thought Lana Del Rey telling him he would be guillotined was a compliment, so we don't think he understands women

In a new memoir called Then It Fell Apart, singer Moby alleged he had a relationship with actress Natalie Portman when he was 33 and she was 20. But, in a new interview with Harper's Bazaar, Portman set the record straight, saying that his description of their relationship is false and contains other factual errors, that makes his behavior seem even grosser than it already did.

Not only did Portman say that the two didn't date, but that he also misrepresented her age. "I was surprised to hear that he characterized the very short time that I knew him as dating because my recollection is a much older man being creepy with me when I just had graduated high school," she said. "He said I was 20; I definitely wasn't. I was a teenager. I had just turned 18."

She says that they met when she went to one of his shows: "He said, 'let's be friends'. He was on tour and I was working, shooting a film, so we only hung out a handful of times before I realized that this was an older man who was interested in me in a way that felt inappropriate."

Portman also stated that she was not contacted to fact check this information, noting that "it almost feels deliberate." "That he used this story to sell his book was very disturbing to me. It wasn't the case," she said. "There are many factual errors and inventions. I would have liked him or his publisher to reach out to fact check."

Another part of his memoir describes a conversation with Lana Del Rey, in which she joked about how wealthy he was. "You're a rich WASP from Connecticut and you live in a five-level penthouse. You're 'The Man.' As in, 'stick it to The Man.' As in the person they guillotine in the revolution." His response: "I didn't know if she was insulting me but I decided to take it as a compliment." This only further proves that Moby doesn't understand women at all, which may explain how he took a couple of hangouts with Portman to mean that they were dating.

Moby has since responded to Portman's statement in an equally creepy Instagram post with a photo of him shirtless with the actress, calling the interview a "gossip piece." "We did, in fact, date. And after briefly dating in 1999 we remained friends for years," he said. "I like Natalie, and I respect her intelligence and activism. But, to be honest, I can't figure out why she would actively misrepresent the truth about our (albeit brief) involvement. He also said that he backs up the story in his book with "lots of corroborating photo evidence, etc." He then ends with this: "I completely respect Natalie's possible regret in dating me(to be fair, I would probably regret dating me, too), but it doesn't alter the actual facts of our brief romantic history."

Among many other things that are questionable about his claims, if you have to have "corroborating evidence" to prove a relationship that one person claims didn't happen, you're doing the whole "dating" thing wrong.

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Photo by Jerritt Clark / Stringer / Getty Images.

She's been wonderfully honest about the ups and downs of her procedures

There is a good chance that, right now, Cardi B is wearing really something really tight. I'm not talking about one of the pieces from her Fashion Nova collection, either. Instead, she's probably cooing at baby Kulture while swaddled in a compression garment, a necessary part of the healing process after certain cosmetic surgery procedures.

As reported by E! News, Cardi B has had to cancel several performances after her doctor ordered her to rest and allow her body to recover following cosmetic surgery. A rep for Cardi explained to E! that "Cardi was overzealous in getting back to work" and that "her strenuous schedule has taken a toll on her body and she has been given strict doctor's orders to pull out of the rest of her performances in May." This followed an admission by Cardi herself, at the Beale Street Music Festival earlier this month, that she should have canceled her performance because moving too much would mess up her lipo.

Cardi's transparency about plastic surgery is nothing new for her. She has opened up in the past about her underground butt injections, including the financial pressure she felt and the risks she took to get them. She's been open about both of her breast augmentation procedures as well, most recently getting them redone after giving birth to her daughter. But Cardi's transparency about the ups and downs of plastic surgery is still rare amongst celebrities and is therefore refreshing.

And it's not just celebrities who keep quiet about these procedures. The first person I knew to get a butt augmentation was a friend from high school. We reconnected as adults, and I remember going to her apartment after her surgery, and seeing her pace the floor in her compression garment, since it was still too soon to sit and put pressure on her backside. But even in the comfort of her own home, she seemed to speak in a hushed tone about having had the surgery. Before I'd arrived, she just told me she'd had a "medical procedure," and didn't say anything more. This has been the case for other women I've met who have gotten "work" done, including my aesthetician, a colleague who got a nose job, a darling YouTuber with whom I had the pleasure of having dinner; all of them would only acknowledge their enhancements in secret—the shame was palpable, and unfortunate. It's clear that women who get plastic surgery might be celebrated for the results, but there's an expectation that they should keep quiet about it, and feel bad for having made a choice about their own bodies.

So it's no surprise that, in the pop culture realm, people like Cardi are exceptions to the rule. Thanks to the internet, we can easily track the fullness of a celebrity's lips or backside over the course of time without them ever explicitly acknowledging the medical intervention that took place. And while people, of course, have the right to privacy, and should be able to do whatever they want with their bodies without offering explanations, it would still be nice if they opened up, if only to take away the attached stigma that affects so many people. Which is why I hope Cardi's willingness to lay it all out there becomes a trend. No one should have to harbor shame for investing in having a body that looks the way they want it to.

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Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

"In my head I thought, This is how it ends"

Kit Harington almost lost a lot more than the Iron Throne while filming the final season of Game of Thrones. According to an interview with NowThis News, the actor almost lost one of his balls while riding a mechanical dragon.

Harington revealed that the incident took place when he was filming the scene where his character, Jon Snow, takes a ride on Rhaegal for the first time in the Season 8 premiere. Since dragons aren't real (sorry), Harington was filming the scene, where Jon almost falls off the dragon and then swings around to pick himself back up, on a mechanical contraption.

"My right ball got trapped, and I didn't have time to say, 'Stop,'" Harington said in an interview. "And I was being swung around. In my head I thought, This is how it ends. On this buck, swinging me around by my testicles, literally." We see shots of the fake dragon he's riding in front of a green screen, and it does look pretty terrifying.

Luckily, his testicles remained intact through the near-disastrous event, and he's survived with quite the story to tell to unsuspecting journalists.

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Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for goop

"I had to create a harder shell about being a woman"

In a panel discussion during Gwyneth Paltrow's In Goop Health summit, actress Jessica Alba revealed that she "stopped eating" to avoid unwanted attention from men when she was first starting her career in Hollywood.

According to People, Alba said that she "had a curvy figure as a young girl" and, as such, was made to feel as though her body was the reason that men may be inappropriate toward her. "I was meant to feel ashamed if I tempted men," Alba said during the panel discussion. "Then I stopped eating a lot when I became an actress. I made myself look more like a boy so I wouldn't get as much attention. I went through a big tomboy phase."

She continued, "In Hollywood, you're really preyed upon. They see a young girl, and they just want to touch you inappropriately or talk to you inappropriately or think that they're allowed to be aggressive with you in a way."

Alba also noted that she was raised in a conservative household. "My mom would say, 'You have a body, and it's very womanly, and people don't understand that you're 12,'" she said. "I wasn't allowed to have my nalgas out, which is butt cheeks [in Spanish], but I was born with a giant booty, and they come out of everything. So, I didn't get to wear normal things that all my friends wore."

She said that these reactions to her body really affected her attitude. "I created this pretty insane 'don't fuck with me' [attitude]," she said. "I had to create a harder shell about being a woman."

According to her, her relationship to her body only changed when her first child, Honor, was born in 2008. "[After she was born,] I was like, Oh this is what these boobies are meant to do! Feed a kid!" she said. "And that was the dopest shit I'd ever done. So, I came into my body as a woman finally and I stopped being ashamed of myself."

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Photo courtesy of Teva

Because of course

Teva, the most obvious lesbian footwear brand since Birkenstock, really knows its customer base. In time for Pride, the brand has teamed up with Tegan and Sara for a gay shoe to end all gay shoes. In other words, your Pride footwear is on lock.

The shoe isn't just your average Teva sandal. Tegan and Sara's design, the Teva Flatform Universal Pride sandal, is a 2.5-inch platform shoe with a rainbow sole. Tegan and Sara noted in a press release that they have been Teva wearers for pretty much their whole lives. "We got our first pair of Teva sandals when we were 16," they said. "This rainbow Flatform collab is like full circle LGBTQ+ Pride validation."

What's better, with each sandal sale, Teva will donate $15 to the Tegan and Sara Foundation, up to $30,000. The funds donated will go toward scholarships which will give young members of the LGBTQ+ community the chance to go to summer camps which will "help develop self-confidence and leadership abilities in a safe and nurturing environment." Tegan and Sara added, "Teva's generous support for our foundation will allow us to help even more LGBTQ+ youth."

Available today at Teva's and Nordstrom's websites, the sandal retails for $80.

Photo courtesy of Teva

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