Monday, July 13, 2015

Blue House: A Tribute To Frida Kahlo

For as long as I have known of her, I've wanted to be Frida Kahlo. Who hasn't though? She is the ultimate fact, the penultimate personality. So deep and vast and serious, yet light and sardonic, somehow seeing both the celebration and comedy of life while simultaneously mourning it.

In her now so famous paintings, she surrounds herself with nurturing or lustful elements, painting herself as borne of flora and fauna, canvases littered with talismans of a feral, feline and "feminine" life, and yet her garb, so full skirted and rosy and silken could just as easily turn "masculine". She could have flowers in her hair and simultaneously, smoothly hold a cigarette, make confident conversation in a room full of politicians, walk like a man or even make love to a woman. She was assertive and aggressive about her passions, at a time it was considered horrific for a woman to do so. Frankly, women around the world still struggle with the glass ceilings and boxes they aren't allowed to cross or tick off.

She was considered outrageous. Always so dramatic, yet lacking in melodrama she is simply sad and pure. Like she felt things clearly, unclouded by malice or social stigma. Like a child's version of the world - animals are good, the earth needs love so grow your own garden, paint and eat well and when you love, do so with infinite generosity. Travel, laugh, and don't spend so much time on what other people think. Oh and wear flowers in your hair.

So glamorous yet so earthy. So passionate and full of pains both physical and beyond. (Kahlo spent her entire life in pain due to a spinal birth defect, polio at age 6, and a tram accident at 18 for which she later underwent no less than 35 surgeries. A few years before she died her leg had to be amputated as well.) Humanitarian, class-less, sexy and yet maternal, she is an elegy of extremes. It is no wonder then that people continue to be fascinated and even obsessed by her, and that Frida has become a first name reference for strength, grace and resilience.

This year the feminist Mexican artist who has over the last few decades achieved some sort of grandame level of cultural iconicism, rose to even greater heights, returning to pique the public's curiously posthumously yet again. Her affair with Catalan artist Jose Bartoli came to light after his family found her letters to him - works of art in themselves, they show that our heroine was not just adept of oil and brush but of swivelling that true instrument of passion and colour - the heart - using a variety of mediums. Simultaneously a photographic exhibit of her belongings (shot by Ishiuchi Miyako) released earlier this year and the public could finally view the glory of Kahlo's wardrobe and quirky personal effects. Sealed in a bathroom in her house all this time, the items were there on order of her husband Diego Rivera, who eccentrically but somehow in keeping with the folklore of their lives, asked they remain there for 15 years after his death.

I have often looked longingly through her images and after reading extracts of her love letters to Bartoli some time in June, decided to ask my photographer sister Nayantara, if she might be keen to work on a tribute project.

We planned for weeks. Moti the langur, the white pigeons, the location, the colours. We pored over paintings and literature, zoomed in on earrings and textures. When Ogaan India came on board with the clothes and make up artist Savleen Manchanda agreed to create the essential unibrow and rainbow of roses-on-head look, I was more convinced than ever, there was some sort of Kahlo Magic at hand. Like one of her surrealist paintings, the shoot took on a life of its own, where the elements fell into spaces, as if in a dream, and against all odds.

We shot on what would have been her 108th birthday, July 6th. It was the day the monsoon finally came to the capital. The day a rainbow drew itself across the Delhi sky in reward and reminder. The day we meticulously made a childhood dream come true.

The tribute is called Blue House, in honour of Frida's own house La Casa Azul, and perhaps also because we shot it in our own version of The Blue House, our childhood home, ironically teeming itself with exotic wild birds, occasional animals, forgotten spirits and ghosts of Christmases past. Frida was born and raised in her Blue House, which still stands today in Coyoacán, now a museum dedicated to her life. She lived there later too with Rivera, and she died there, exactly 61 years ago to the date today. In honour of her life's work and unending inspiration, we present:

"Blue House: A Tribute To Frida Kahlo"

In closing, I'd like to share a different tribute to the artist; a poem by the American poet Marty McConnell. A remarkable woman herself, her poem Frida Kahlo to Marty McConnell has been misappropriated in thousands of ways. It contains in it the line now oft attributed to Frida herself - "take a lover who looks at you like maybe you are magic". The poem in its entirety is far, far more beautiful. Here it is, Frida's advice on love, re-imagined:

Frida Kahlo to Marty McConnell
by Marty McConnell

leaving is not enough; you must
stay gone. train your heart
like a dog. change the locks
even on the house he's never
visited. you lucky, lucky girl.
you have an apartment
just your size. a bathtub
full of tea. a heart the size
of Arizona, but not nearly
so arid. don't wish away
your cracked past, your
crooked toes, your problems
are papier mache puppets
you made or bought because the 
at the market was so compelling you
had to have them. you had to have 
and you did. and now you pull down
the bridge between your houses.
you make him call before
he visits, you take a lover
for granted, you take
a lover who looks at you
like maybe you are magic. make
the first bottle you consume
in this place a relic. place it
on whatever altar you fashion
with a knife and five cranberries.
don't lose too much weight.
stupid girls are always trying
to disappear as revenge. and you
are not stupid. you loved a man
with more hands than a parade
of beggars, and here you stand.
like a four-poster bed. heart like a
heart leaking something so strong
they can smell it in the street.

You can read her work and learn more about her here: 
And you can view a rather comic yet heartbreaking project on the misappropriation of this poem, here: or 'because even the alphabet is precious'

1 comment: