Yes, it’s portrait number 26, half time, so to speak, and it’s been quite a journey so far. We’ve met some stunning people along the way. Other people we already knew have surprised us with their stories. My hope for the future of humanity has returned. Yes, I had given it up, I didn’t think we would stand a chance to turn the tables. One of the main reasons I started portrait52 was to find a cure for my hopelessness. It’s selfish, I know, but I like to think it’s the right kind of selfish. I wanted to prove to myself and the people around me that we are good, we are intelligent, we understand the urgency of our environmental problems and we care about the world we live in. And we actually can start changing our behavior of mass consumption and our habit of acknowledging the problems, but refusing to be an active part of the solution. Because there’s no other way, that we know with absolute certainty.
This week’s portrait may not seem to have much to do with our proclaimed mission to bring along change. At first glance. Frida Kahlo was a Mexican artist, a painter, a self-portrayer (I thought I just made up this word, but my grammar correction doesn’t seem to bother). Some of her self portraits have become very popular, decorating the walls of Mexican restaurants or adorning different kinds of apperal items. I’m not sure all these people who consume more or less successful replicas of Frida Kahlo’s work know much about the woman or the meaning of her art. Or have been in a museum and have witnessed the power and vividness of a genuine Frida Kahlo art work.
This kind of popularity may drive art lovers away, like it did with Maddie:
“I’m not a big fan of her art because today she is strongly identified with “hip” and “alternative”. But it seems that people don’t really look at the art. What I really admire about her is the way she dealt with her physical pain. She was an incredibly strong person. She truly lived her life despite tremendous difficulties.”
While I understand Maddie’s position toward the way Kahlo’s art is perceived and used, I think we shouldn’t let our dislike of popular trends influence our way of looking at things in general, and art in particular. When Greta Thunberg started the Fridays for Future movement, millions of people joined her because they recognized the need of a strong wake-up call. Along the way, many people have criticized and ridiculed her. Many of her early supporters have turned their back on her because of the mistakes made by the PR machinery behind her more recents appearances. Does this belittle what she has accomplished so far or make her cause less important?
Frida Kahlo’s life was plastered by hardships. She got polio as a child. At the age of 18 she got hit by a bus and suffered severe injuries. During the rest of her life she had over 30 surgeries. She spent all her life in terrible physical pain. Toward the end of her life she lost one leg and couldn’t walk anymore due to her body’s deterioration. Still she fought for her beliefs until the end with all the means she had at hand.
These sufferings are not the reason why I chose her as my half time portrait. It is the way she dealt with them that make her an inspiration. It takes a lot of courage to strip your soul bare and put it on a canvas for the whole world to see you. And it takes even more strength to turn pain into beauty and to love life despite of all the shit it throws at you.
This year in October there will be an extensive Frida Kahlo exhibition in the Drents Museum in Assen. Write it down in your calendar and plan your vacation accordingly. It will be worth it, I promise.