By Laura Stokes
Acting on dream and impulse, we found ourselves in Mexico City last weekend at the Frida Kahlo Centennial Celebration at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. I had read about the exhibit but never thought we would go until I told a friend whose passion for Frida is even larger than mine, and somehow momentum took over. So we booked a flight and arrived late on a Friday evening, very hungry after passing on an option to buy “dinner” of potato chips and Mars bars, the current American Airlines cuisine.
The town was quiet and all the restaurants in the area were closed by 10:30. Our hotel dated from the 17th century when it served as a monastery — old, quaint and spare, as opposed to the luxurious Sheraton across the street where most Americans must have been staying, as we saw only Mexican families in The Cortez. This suited us perfectly and was consistent with our wish to melt into the life of the city. We were pleasantly surprised to see few tourists in the Zocalo, the restaurants, and the museums — selfish of us, I suppose, because I am sure the Mexican economy could use the tourist trade.
I had expected to be touched and inspired by Frida’s actual work, but so much more came to the surface as I stood in the long queues of Mexicans waiting for this unique opportunity to pay homage to one of their most beloved cultural heroes and icons. The works were chosen to exhibit Frida’s life-long dedication to and use of indigenous Mexican folk traditions and popular arts in her work and lifestyle. And by the snail’s pace of the crowd of visitors as they crept along the walls devouring each word of the descriptions and studiously examining the detail and imagery of her paintings, it was obvious that Frida must have been successful in honestly evoking a genuine connection with her audience. Frida’s reverence for the indigenous people and culture permeated her work and was transmitted to those who could most recognize and appreciate it.
Again, at Casa Azul, where Frida was born, lived and died, I continued to notice the reverence of the Mexican people for her work The same long lines of Mexicans were there as were at the museum and the same thoughtful and thorough scrutiny of the works and the memorabilia. I was struck with envy and resentment, as I have often been before, at the lack of heritage and story in my own white Anglo-Saxon protestant background, the poverty of tradition and influence and cherishing of what has passed.
I ponder the social consequences of such a lack of understanding of the significance of belonging to a culture rooted in centuries of custom and tradition and language and how that ignorance and insensitivity is manifested in my own country.
Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, July 2007, all photos © 2007 by Laura Stokes, all rights reserved.
About Laura: Laura Stokes lives in the Rio Grande valley, outside Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she works with great passion on matters of peace and social justice. She is also active in her community and with her daughters and granddaughter, who she happens to presently be keeping up with in Ghost Ranch.