13 artists celebrate Frida Kahlo at Painted Face, curated by Range and ArtExposure
As she once famously said, “I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.”
At that time, classic bust-length portraits were very fashionable. But Frida subverted the format and challenged the style and also questioned the idea of ideal feminine beauty both in art and in life, while focusing on her individuality. She used her artistry to question her often tormented roles as an artist, a lover, and a wife. In a true self-obsessed style, Kahlo employed religious symbolism in her portraits, be it herself as the Madonna with animal babies, or, as the Virgin Mary cradling her husband, Diego Rivera. In her depiction of her accident, she is Christ impaled on a metal bar, a martyr crucified. Her use of a mask-like face in every portrait recalls the depiction of saints and holy women in indigenous cultures.
While skirting the surrealistic, her portraits embraced magic realism, using imagery as its favourite tool. Many of Kahlo’s self-portraits show roots growing out of her body, reflecting both personal growth and entrapment at the same time. Hair, on the other hand, is always a symbol of growth and feminine allure. The recurring medical imagery is a painful acknowledgement of a life of suffering and guilt, with Kahlo’s broken body becoming her metaphor.
She also questioned the idea of the artist’s gaze. In her portraits, it is not Frida looking at us, but Frida looking into herself. We experience that piercing interrogation of self on self that creates a triangular network of gazes - a very new conceptual attempt at that point of time.
Kahlo has attracted popular interest to the extent that the term "Fridamania" has been coined to describe the phenomenon. She is considered "one of the most instantly recognisable artists", whose face has been "used with the same regularity, and often with a shared symbolism, as images of Che Guevara or Bob Marley”. Her life and art have inspired a variety of merchandise, and her distinctive look has been appropriated by the fashion world.
Posthumously Frida Kahlo has been turned into a symbol of non-conformity, the archetype of a cultural minority, a victim and a survivor. Major art institutions and museums have honoured her impact on the art world, as many contemporary giants of art have acknowledged their debt to Kahlo.
To honour Kahlo’s contribution to art, Range along with Gallery ArtExposure is holding a unique art exhibition, celebrating the 111th birth anniversary of the artist, where 13 artists will be displaying recreation of Kahlo’s self-portraits in their own media and infusing their own aesthetics into them.
The artists include Arpita Akhanda, Atish Mukherjee, Avijit Mukherjee, Bhaskar Chitrakar, Deepak Kumar Saw, Falguni Bhatt Sanghvi, Gautam Sarkar, Prasanta Acharjee, Priyanka Aelay, RamKumar Manna, Subir Dey, Viraag Desai and Vitesh Naik.
Arpita Akhanda’s series of performance, installation and video pieces uses her own body as a site for exploring the fragility and strength of the human condition under stress of the contemporary society and their conflicts. “I have used paper weave and photo performance as a process to construct and reconstruct the urge to find Frida as a performer and concept within her,” says Akhanda.
Bhaskar Chitrakar, an artist who has reinvented the Kalighat patachitra, has created “Kali-Kahlo” series using powder pigments on paper. Flowing Mexican clothes are replaced by saree blouses, marigolds take the place of exotic flowers, the jewellery is Bengali. Even the animals take on a local flavour. What remains is the essence of the iconic woman, her steadfast gaze, her untrimmed unibrow, her mask-like face appropriating both herself and her viewer.
“My recent works are based on hunger. Hunger exists in our society in different state, form or at different level. In this painting ‘Wheat bags on the head’, I wanted to show that hunger is a universal crisis. It resonates with Kahlo’s thoughts, too, since she observed how in the US the rich people have parties while many die of hunger,” says Deepak Kumar Saw.
Vitesh Naik, one of Goa’s most feted artists, was inspired by Kahlo’s “Time Flies” and painted a somewhat tense portrait against the backdrop of beautiful Indo-Portuguese villas. His twin daughters fly through the skies chasing their dreams, brave and strong like Frida Kahlo.
“For my bachelors dissertation I chose to work on Frida Kahlo since I was very much inspired Kahlo’s portraits. These particular photographs were a part of that series, where I dressed up like her and manipulated her paintings on my portrait image. The challenge was to get the right expression. For me, Kahlo is somebody who had a deep story that remained untold and that’s something which was very important to capture,” says artist Priyanka Aelay.
“The show is a unique one, and we are excited about the outcome. We have had more artists wanting to join in than for any other show. Frida Kahlo is an artist who is still relevant to contemporary art, and will continue to be important for the generations to come,” says Aban Desai, founder-director of Range, a contemporary art gallery.
What: The Painted Face, an art exhibition celebrating the 111th birth anniversary of Frida Kahlo will be inaugurated on July 6, at 6 p.m. and will be on till July 20 (12 p.m. to 8 p.m. except Sundays).
Where: ArtExposure, 54B, Manirban Road, Kolkata - 700029