Dallas DMA Mexican Art Exhibit Spotlights Strong Women

“At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can” – Frida Kahlo

The most striking theme of the historic Mexico exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art is its focus on strong — even revolutionary — Mexican women.

The show, “Mexico 1900-1950: Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Jose Clemente Orozco, and the Avant-Garde,” is at the DMA through Sunday, July 16, 2017. Impressively, the exhibition’s only other stop was at the Grand Palais in Paris.

DMA Director Agustín Arteaga, formerly from the Museo Nacional de Arte (MUNAL) in Mexico City, brought the exhibit to Dallas along with the Latino Center for Leadership Development, and worked hard to attract  and welcome the Latino and Mexican community in Dallas to the DMA.

Although Frida Kahlo grabbed headlines about the show for good reason, she is by no means the only Mexican woman artist whose work is displayed or even whose image is depicted.

The exhibit depicts women engrossed in an array of activities: selling calla lilies or produce at a market, marching off to war, artists depicted in evocative self portraits, or interacting with their families.

 

To walk through the exhibit was to see women depicted of all complexions and backgrounds – indigenous, Hispanic, Spanish, black, and mixed background (mestiza/o).The paintings depict a tremendous diversity of women, as seen below.

Many of the diverse portraits of women were self portraits by women artists other than Frida Kahlo. The self-portrait from 1947 below of the woman in a green blouse is by Olga Costa. Costa was born in Germany to Jewish parents, and immigrated to Mexico at a  young age.

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Rosa Rolanda also painted the self-portrait below, in 1952. Rolando was an American-born artist, dancer and photographer who immigrated to Mexico with her Mexican artist husband Miguel Covarrubias. She was very interested in Mexican folk art.

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The painting below by Mexican painter María Izquierdo is another self-portrait, from 1946. She was raised in a small Mexican rural village, but moved to Mexico City as a young adult. Her bold style is reminiscent of Frida Kahlo’s work.

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One painting that encapsulates the complexity of Mexican mixed identity is Kahlo’s iconic Las dos Fridas (The Two Fridas, 1939).

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“I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.” – Frida Kahlo

Frida herself had a German father and a Mexican indigenous mother. The painting shows the two versions of herself grasping hands, the key difference being one figure is dressed in indigenous Tehuana dress and the other in a white European Victorian-era dress. Beyond that, the broken and exposed hearts depicted are believed to be references to how she felt about artist Diego Rivera, around the time of their divorce.

Frida acknowledged and even celebrated her imperfections. Her image at left below was titled “Self Portrait Very Ugly” (Muy Fea, 1933). And at right below, Frida expressed her tortured bond to Diego by juxtaposing  half of her face with his in a heart-like chamber.

“Diego was my everything; my child my lover, my universe.” – Frida Kahlo

My favorite Frida piece in the exhibit is the whimsical self-portrait that she painted her pet dog into, Itzcuintli Dog with Me (Perro Itzcuintli conmigo, 1938) The tiny black dog stands with confidence against the folds of her skirt. As the owner of a tiny five-pound chihuahua, this image melted my heart a bit. Frida never had children, but she loved her pets.

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As a powerful way to champion women’s expression the museum also hosted a night to break the Guiness World Record of the largest gathering of people dressed at Frida Kahlo. More than 1,000 people showed up (women, children, babies and men) in a stunning array of colorful self-expression and as a tribute to the famous female artist.

The exhibit was not only about Frida, though. There were powerful paintings of women at work, in celebration, interacting with their families — and even going to war. Male Mexican painters also powerfully depicted women.

There were women depicted enduring the struggles of the Mexican Revolution. The 1926 painting below by famed artist Jose Clemente Orozco was appropriately titled “The Women Soldiers” (Las soldaderas). As the exhibit noted, Orozco depicted the revolution and the participation of the Mexican people as that in which “power and melancholy merged to create a vision of the future of Mexico and of humanity, an approach that was nevertheless critical.”

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The exhibit includes also includes one of Diego Rivera’s iconic depictions of a woman selling white calla lilies.

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Another of the most attention-grabbing paintings depicts a woman at a produce market selling fruit. The 1951 oil painting by Olga Costa is titled appropriately, “The Fruit Seller” (La vendedora de frutas).

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Another market scene is “Indian Women on Market Day” (1922), by Francisco Diaz de Leon.

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Female figures are depicted less frequently at ease, in celebration or sunbathing.

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They are depicted in the home, as central to the family unit.

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The painting below by Angel Zárraga is “The Northern Border of Mexico” (1927), and appears to depict a woman with arms outstretched as she looks toward the United States. This painting could be seen as some as the embodiment of the beacon of hope offered by the American Dream, as light seems to be shining on the girl from the north.

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Perhaps appropriately, the exhibit ends with a powerful depiction of the union between a woman and man. An indigenous man and woman are depicted as the Mexican Adam and Eve, painted by Alfredo Ramos Martínez in 1933.

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