October 26, 2021

Lucky Life

Arts Fanatics

An Indigenous Standpoint on Frida Kahlo

4 min read


In 2019, I visited the bustling Casa Azul, Frida Kahlo’s colourful dwelling-turned-museum. As a cultural worker and regular museum goer, I was enthusiastic to enter this shrine for Kahlo enthusiasts. As a entire-blooded Purépecha female, however, I felt out of area. La Casa Azul straight away stood out to me as the epitome of Mexican racial politics. Past the substantial contingent of foreign tourists, the Mexican viewers was nothing like me: They were light-weight-skinned, urbane, and uncritically fascinated by Kahlo. I still left Casa Azul feeling disappointed and disenfranchised. Even though Kahlo wore rebozos like all the ladies in my relatives do, she however did not appear like us. Lacking from the community discourse about the artist are conversations about how the “nationalism” that Kahlo promoted both equally in her artwork and own model perpetuate the development of a mythologized Indianness at the price of Indigenous folks.

A single of the most influential ideologies of 20th-century Mexican cultural consciousness was indigenismo, aptly summed as “the browning of the nation” by historian Might Kay Vaughan. This time period refers to a cultural ideology formulated by the Mexican white and mestizo (Spanish and Indigenous blended race) elite that became formal coverage starting in the 1920s. It turned so by each making a new prototypical Mexican Indian and homogenizing the many unique Indigenous cultures. In apply the term intended glorifying a redefined earlier fabricated by co-opting and simplifying Indigenous cultures to render them palatable to a mestizo hegemony, although assimilating Indigenous men and women into a modern nation-point out. Unsurprisingly, Indigenous men and women have been denied an lively function in the conception and execution of this new ideology. It is through these historic conditions and cultural frameworks that Kahlo’s legacy demands reckoning.

Kahlo’s lively participation in the development of “Indianness” from the standpoint of a mestizo dominant class can be witnessed in her adoption of Indigenous attire. Whilst Kahlo routinely donned Tehuana attire traditional to the isthmus of Tehuantepec, Kahlo had weak connections to the region, once stating in an job interview for Excélsior: “I’ve never ever been to Tehuantepec, […] nor do I have any relationship to the city, but of all Mexican dresses it is the 1 I like the most, and that is why I don it.”

Kahlo, born to an affluent German father and mestiza mother (Spanish and Purépecha), adopted the well known fetishization and sanitization of the Tehuana favored by the cosmopolitan bourgeois, intellectual, and creative circles of Mexico Town. The appropriation of the Tehuana attire reflected how the grandeur of pre-Columbian civilizations may be designed to conform to the tastes of a newly emerging countrywide identification. Kahlo biographer Hayden Herrera further more one-way links this adoption to what has become the modern notion that Indigenous gals are additional earthbound and sensual.

For Kahlo the assortment and show of pre-Hispanic artifacts and regional modern day goods was one more extension of her fetishization of Indigenous cultures. Shots of Kahlo posing with her and Diego Rivera’s collection of Indigenous items nicely align Kahlo with indigenismo. Standing there is nonetheless yet another means by which to recontextualize Indigenous cultures and make them a shared place in which almost any person might partake. As Professor Miriam Oesterreich has pointed out, the show and documentation of her personal collection is not an appreciation of Indigenous cultures so much as it is an improvement of Kahlo’s creative position by highlighting the reference details of her brand name. This kind of private collections furthered Kahlo’s accumulation of social cash and clout.

Kahlo’s aesthetic reflects the vogue of her time: the mythologizing of a homogenized Indigenous previous afforded by her proximity to whiteness and wealth. When common viewpoint touts Kahlo as going from the grain, she was, alternatively, quite significantly partaking in the generation of a nationally-backed novel culture — a “true” Mexican indigeneity reconstructed as a mestizo and white ideation. Indigenous iconography discovered in her artwork are the outcome of her and artists like her rendering the cultures as up for grabs in the race to make a color-blind country.

When Kahlo savored the fame of her legendary apparel, Indigenous folks faced a different truth, just one that forced our assimilation into “modern Mexico” when treating us as passive embodiments of a new nationwide essence. Even remaining-leaning indigenista intellectuals agreed that Indigenous people have been in require of intervention by the educated elite, considering that we were being considered incapable of participating in the development of the nation’s potential. In impact, indigenismo begat a paternalistic sentiment and the inferior position of Indigenous peoples by denying indigenous sovereignty and self-perseverance.  

Indigenous persons like me are left to reckon with up to date idols like Kahlo who benefited from a digestible indigeneity and the fantasy of a monolithic Latinx lifestyle inside Mexico. Currently, the most radical honoring of Indigenous peoples is letting us tell our own narratives. We have resisted threats to our existence and tradition. We are nonetheless in this article. Listen when we talk.

Kahlo exists in a twilight zone of a mestizo hegemony at the expense Indigenous sovereignty. Her status and skill to don “Indigenous” as an artwork apply substantially demonstrates her cultural function: a mestiza female of the higher course. With bought-out exhibitions and report-breaking auction costs, Fridamania is not heading away. Kahlo’s image and likeness will carry on to be printed on anything from swap fulfill t-shirts to department retailer cosmetics. A lot more nuanced conversations about the fraught nationalism to which she contributed, as perfectly as the flattening of race, ethnicity, and nationality in Mexico are necessary. While indigenismo was the creation of indigeneity without having Indigenous voices, there are now chances to make a a lot more inclusive dialogue about Kahlo by allowing for Indigenous views to reevaluate her legacy.

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