«Back to As a Matter of Art

The World Frida Inspired

Parakata Poderosa by Carlos Villez 
(image courtesy of Hudson River Museum)

“Parakata Poderosa” by Carlos Villez 
(image courtesy of Hudson River Museum)

ArtsNews Note: For our “Roving Directors” feature, we ask Westchester arts professionals to go into the community and give us their take on another institution’s on-view exhibition. This month, Pelham Art Center’s director, Charlotte Mouquin, visited  The World of Frida, on view at Hudson River Museum.

The World of Frida started as an exhibition in California and traveled to the Hudson Valley with selected artworks by artists who have been inspired by the work, advocacy and spirit of legendary Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. 

The exhibition, now at Hudson River Museum through May 22, sees Kahlo’s legacy take on various forms through the works of 75 contemporary artists. The vast number of exhibited artists alone is exemplary of the artist’s reach and influence.

Pop culture is flooded with graphics of Frida, from tote bags, t-shirts, various kitsch merchandise; she was even portrayed on The Simpsons. But many still don’t really know her as a pioneer, as a woman in the arts, and someone who crossed lines of gender, identity, race, circumstance, health and near-death experiences. She has become a beacon for representing strength through ultimate struggle. 

Corazon de Frida, a large painting by Ivan Selic (Perris, CA) in the middle of Hudson River Museum’s gallery, is a powerful entry focal point. This painting shows Kahlo’s skeletal insides combined with vibrant foliage and saturated colors, welcoming the viewer and demanding their attention.

Quilting, collage, beading, papercut, assemblage, drawing, painting, photography and printmaking are just some of the mediums explored in these homage portraits and reinterpretations of figures and symbols. Most of the pieces are from 2018, when the inaugural exhibition opened in California.

A 3D papercut portrait by Carlo Fantin (Oakland, CA) is one reinterpretation, with the title Yes Another Frida Kahlo Portrait superimposed on top. The choice of medium and the repeating phrase that points out the obvious creates a visually intriguing statement.

Works such as a mixed-media collage by Betsy Gorman (Valatie, NY) and the All the Madness acrylic on wood by Barbara Johansen Newman (Needham, MA) break the established square canvas tradition with contemporary boundary-breaking edges.

“8-Bit Frida” by Claudia Blanco (image courtesy of Hudson River Museum)

When considering identity, gender and empowerment, the contemporary artists who pay respect by dressing like Frida are explorers in their relationship to contemporary culture and gender fluidity. Photographs by Razan Elbaba (Vienna, VA) and Emilio Lopez-Menchera (Brussels, Belgium) emulate these gender and identity aspects of Frida.

8-Bit Frida, a painting by Claudia Blanco (San Jose, CA), captures a pixelated 21st Century version of Frida in acrylic on canvas. The vibrant colors and modern pixel motif are symbolic of how people process information in the contemporary madness of current society. The poignant interpretation is a reminder that Frida, and her knowledge, experience and humanity, are a part of our collected society and history, even in our fast-paced information age. 

Kahlo’s work, existence and acclaim, almost 70 years after her death – as well as the accomplishments made in her 47 year life span – continue to invigorate and inspire contemporary artists. 

The Hudson River Museum is not only hosting The World of Frida, but has also complemented it with another exhibition, Frida Kahlo in Context, which shows historical photographs, garments and ephemera of Kahlo and her life in Mexico. In addition, works by the museum’s Teaching Artist-in-Resident David Enriquez explore portraiture via recurring themes in Kahlo’s paintings. Frida’s legacy runs deep, and this active arts education program is vital for community youth to also learn and engage with the art.

Upcoming programs related to the exhibition include a docent tour (March 6); a printmaking workshop led by Enriquez (March 12); an art workshop that explores the huipil, a traditional, loose-fitting blouse from Mexico seen in many of the exhibited works (March 20); and a virtual talk about Kahlo’s life and artworks (March 30). 

A version of this article first appeared in the March 2022 issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNews is distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at artsw.org/artsnews.​​​​