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Rose Art Museum exhibit explores photographs of, not by, Frida Kahlo

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Rose Art Museum exhibit explores photographs of, not by, Frida Kahlo
Installation view of “Frida Kahlo: POSE.” PHOTO: COURTESY OF ROSE ART MUSEUM

Art lovers are used to seeing Frida Kahlo depict herself in her deeply intimate self-portraits. In “Frida Kahlo: POSE” at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, Kahlo is depicted through the lens of other artists, photographers who flocked to her striking image and natural manner in front of the camera. Curators Gannit Ankori and Circe Henestrosa discovered that despite never holding the camera, photography was another medium Kahlo had mastered.

“In mounting this show, which includes more than 80 photographs, Circe and I realized that posing for photographs — not painting — was Kahlo’s first form of self-expression,” says Ankori, who is the Rose Art Museum’s director and chief curator. The artist’s close relationship with her father, photographer Guillermo Kahlo, exposed her to the photographic medium and the art of posing at a young age.

Installation view of “Frida Kahlo: POSE.” PHOTO: COURTESY OF ROSE ART MUSEUM

“Frida Kahlo: POSE” is broken up into sections: Posing; Composing; Exposing; Queering; and Self-Fashioning. The show explores both Kahlo’s participation in the photographic process throughout her life and her attraction to non-binary gender presentation. Kahlo was a queer trailblazer well before her time. That’s reflected in many of the photographs in this exhibition, in which she fashions herself in men’s suits or as intentionally non-gender conforming.

“Her image endures and resonates with contemporary culture today because she was able to break a lot of taboos about women’s experiences, about the challenges to overcome illness and physical injury, both exposing them and working through this trauma in creative ways,” says Henestrosa.

A series of photographs by Lola Alvarez Bravo showcases Kahlo with mirrors. Mirrors were an important part of the artist’s life; she used them when painting her self-portraits and to style her carefully maintained Tehuana garments. By posing Kahlo with the mirrors, Bravo nods to Kahlo’s intense study of herself and curation of her exterior image. The photographs in “POSE” are still performative, as Kahlo worked closely with the photographers to maintain her well controlled image. But they reveal intimate and vulnerable moments in Kahlo’s life, from her formative childhood to her deathbed. 

The show runs through Dec. 19, 2021. Admission to the Rose Museum is free and open to the public but requires a timed-entry reservation for COVID-19 safety protocols.

“’Frida Kahlo: POSE’ is an intimate exhibition, and we hope that visitors will get to know and appreciate Frida Kahlo’s bold and brilliant creative spirit,” say Ankori and Henestrosa. “She did encounter hardships and traumas during her short life but she never let them define her.”