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Rome and Genoa celebrate Frida Kahlo in landmark shows

Retrospective of 'incomparable scale' says Mexican ambassador

05 February, 17:41
Rome and Genoa celebrate Frida Kahlo in landmark shows (By Emily Backus) (ANSA) - Rome, February 5 - Frida Kahlo's life story and place in art history are the focus of two separate exhibits - and a major joint effort - between museums in Rome and Genoa this year. From March 20 to August 31, Rome's Scuderie del Quirinale will analyze the revered Mexican painter's relationship with artistic movements of her time, from Mexican Modernism to European Surrealism.

The second exhibit, at Genoa's Palazzo Ducale from September 20, 2014 to February 15, 2015, explores Kahlo's turbulent private sphere, from her tormented relationship with famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera to her chronic physical pain.

The collaboration between the Rome and Genoa museums has permitted an artistic, cultural and political investigation of Kahlo and her work on a scale that has never been seen before in Europe, Mexican Ambassador to Italy Miguel Ruiz-Cabanas told journalists at a presentation in Rome.

There are already 20,000 reservations for the Rome exhibit, whose 175 works - including 110 of Kahlo's drawings, sketches and paintings - required major collaboration with Mexican authorities.

The exhibit includes 42 of her oil paintings, or nearly a third of her entire corpus. "We know of only 150 (oil) works by her, of which one third have been lost or gone missing or are inaccessible at the moment," said curator Helga Prignitz-Poda, a leading world expert on Kahlo. Many pieces remain in private collections.

Thanks partly to the support of the Republic of Mexico, two works will be on show that have never been seen in public before. Known for her heavy-browed, impassive self-portraits, where the emotional charge resides also in the use of symbolism and Mexican folk imagery, Kahlo has been called a Surrealist and likened to magical realists.

Surrealism founder Andre' Breton once described her work as a "ribbon around a bomb", but Khalo said she was simply painting her truth.

"The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration," she once said.

"They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn't. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality".

In her brief but eventful 47 years of life, 1907-1954, Khalo's reality was deeply marked by pain.

Significantly, her career as a painter began with a devastating traffic accident.

The daughter of a German immigrant and a mestiza woman of mixed indigenous and Spanish ancestry, Kahlo initially aimed to study medicine. But in September 1925, when she was 17, a bus she was riding smashed into a trolley car, leaving her with fractures to her spine, collarbone, ribs and pelvis. Her right leg was broken in eleven places, and an iron handrail punctured her abdomen and uterus, compromising her ability to have children.

As she lay in a full body cast for three months, she painted - and never turned back.

She eventually regained her ability to walk, but underwent dozens of operations as a result of the initial accident, and often had relapses of debilitating pain. Over the course of her life, she made at least 140 paintings - 55 of them self-portraits - and dozens of drawings and studies. "I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best," she once said.

Two years after the accident, she approached the celebrated painter of the Mexican Revolution, Diego Rivera, while he was working on the mural of a public building, showed him four of her paintings and asked him whether she had talent.

They were married in 1929 against her mother's wishes.