City of Edinburg Event Celebrates Search for Identity

By: Karen Villarreal

You don’t have to be an art aficionado to recognize the portraits of iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo; they’ve become part of today’s common visual language alongside “Starry Night” and the “Mona Lisa.” The fact that a relatively modern, female, Mexican painter’s name is as common knowledge as the revered Van Gogh or da Vinci is testament to Kahlo’s legacy, which will be explored and celebrated at the 4th annual Frida Fest hosted by the City of Edinburg and the Edinburg Arts Foundation this Saturday, July 8.

Original Caption: 1944: Photograph of Frida Kahlo (1910-1954), Mexican painter and wife of Diego Rivera.

If you’ve ever wondered why these meticulously painted “selfies” are sold for millions of dollars, or why a mustachioed woman is the new face of feminism and mestizo identity, this is the perfect opportunity to explore the tragic and salacious story, countercultural personality, and revolutionary government sentiments that contributed to Kahlo’s fame.

Frida Fest is free and open to the public, with a Frida and Diego lookalike contest, braid and brow station, live recreations of Frida Kahlo’s paintings, musical entertainment, and a theatrical performance “Buscando a Frida”/ “Looking for Frida” by Lucia Macias Theater Company. It wouldn’t be a cultural celebration without refreshments and handcrafted merchandise for sale throughout the festival grounds!

Kahlo is an important part of the development of the surrealist movement in Mexico along such women as Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington. Her paintings toe the blurry line between Surrealism and Magical Realism, with reality depicted not quite as convention had so far dictated. Her lived reality of pain and emotional torment came through on over 143 paintings she painted over her life, while her search for cultural and sexual identity guided her brush and provide material for endless analysis.

Her body of work paints a picture of a complex woman, and a cult following has developed over this wholly original artist who used art to share the victimhood she both identified with and rebelled against, her beautiful but painful experiences with love, and finally, her own sexual liberation.

While she is a great talent (don’t let her intentional primitivism fool you), Kahlo’s artwork is only half of the story of her great fame; the circumstances of her life, including childhood illness, fateful teenage accident, strained relationship with her husband, and countless adult surgeries (some thought to be performed at her hypochondriac insistence) hold today’s audiences captive.  According to historical accounts, one fateful day seemed to foretell the strange course of her adult life: After the trolley accident which left a metal rod piercing her pelvis, her naked body lay bleeding and glittering with gold. Apparently some painter or craftsman on the bus had spilled the packet of gold powder he had been carrying and it had created a scene of blood and spectacle. This duality between life and death, glory and despair, seems to follow her throughout life as a major theme, with other dualities expressing themselves in countless paintings.

12/8/1939-Mexico City, Mexico- Diego Rivera, with his wife, Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.

Since her death, her artwork has been pored over, reproduced, and resonated with by millions of people around the world, but especially in Mexico and in the Rio Grande Valley, where many individuals relate to Kahlo’s search for identity as Hispanic, indigenous, or something in between/not quite defined. If ever there was a more perfect place to host a FridaFest, it is the border city of Edinburg!