Colorful and folkloric attires with delicate and intricate embroidery designs, and a beautiful crown of flowers that could make any Coachella attender jealous are her staple pieces. Her hair, perfectly braided, merges with the bright flowers adorning her head. Her cinnamon glowing skin highlight her black eyes, which appear mysterious to many. Framing those expressive eyes are some fierce eyebrows that meet together at the middle, giving her the characteristic feature that turned her into one of the most important symbols of Mexican culture, as well as feminism.
Recently, the Dallas Museum of Art, as a way to close the art exhibition 1900-1950 Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, José Clemente Orozco, and the Avant-Garde, they organized an event called "Frida Fest." To make the event even more interesting, they registered at the Guinness Book of World Records to achieve the largest gathering of people disguised as Frida. Coincidentally, that day also marked the celebration of her 110th birthday, so the event became a huge celebration that included screenings of movies and documentaries, as well as Mexican music and food, and even a stand where you could get a makeover inspired by the artist.
About 3,000 people attended the celebrations of which 1,000 wore colorful attires fulfilling all the requirements both the museum and the Record Guinness people established. Pink or red huipil shawls, a crown of at least three flowers, a floral dress or ensemble with a length beneath the knee, and, obviously, the iconic unibrow. Men, women, children, and elderly people dusted off their best costumes and went happily to celebrate Frida’s birthday. But what should we think of such an event as this? Is it a real and honest way to praise the painter for what she was or just a marketing opportunity to follow the Frida craze, or as Diana Vernon calls it in her article for The Culture Trip, the “Fridamania”?
Those thousands of people in costume are nothing compared to the endless images and merchandising products out there with the artist’s face or that make a reference to her. Has this gone too far? I guess so. In Chelsea, NY, there’s a themed Frida Kahlo restaurant inspired by her art and her famous, Casa Azul. Moreover, in Oaxaca, Mexico, there’s a restaurant specialized in Mexican gastronomy whose owner, in full costume (eyebrow and mustache included) serves you while doing her best Frida impression. So, at what moment in time did Frida Kahlo, a revolutionary woman who shattered all gender stereotypes and, more importantly, a politically active communist, became a symbol of capitalism through the commercialization of her image?
Let me ask another question: what are we praising exactly through the commodification of her image: the woman, her art, or her persona? My kind of obvious answer is the latter. Although I don’t doubt that there are people out there that really appreciate her art and life, it’s no secret that most of the people proudly wearing a t-shirt with her face or getting a pin with her silhouette are just embracing this fanatic fashion trend. The saddest part of this story is that this isn’t only a matter of people blindly worshiping a constructed image or an icon, but these attitudes are highly encouraged by some of the painter’s remaining family, who decided that the best way to protect her image was by creating a corporation. Yes, the name of a woman against capitalism is now part of a huge merchandising corporation that, more than preserving and honoring the artist, is looking for the best way to profit at her expense.
So, to pick up with the title of the article, yes, making a Frida Fest, more than honoring the work and life of a revolutionary artist, disrespects the beliefs of a woman with strong ideals. And by doing so, all these attitudes are harming the image of Mexican art as well. So, instead of looking for new novelty products and not plucking your brows to resemble her, try to understand her life and vision. Here is a head start: