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Portraits from an Artist


Get a peek into the intimate world of Frida Kahlo, whose personal collection of photographs reveals a woman at the center of the 20th century’s avant-garde

By Danielle Stein Chizzik

Frida stomach down, by Nickolas Muray, 1946. Image courtesy of the Frida Kahlo Museum. Click here to see more photos.

“I leave you my portrait,” Frida Kahlo famously wrote, “so that you will have my presence all the days and nights that I am away from you.” In fact, she left not one painting of herself, but 55. And yet the world’s thirst for insight into the iconoclastic Mexican artist remains unquenched, as evidenced by the traveling exhibition, Frida Kahlo—Her Photos, at Phoenix’s Heard Museum through Feb. 8.

The show, curated by the Mexican photographer and historian Pablo Ortiz Monasterio and brought to the American Southwest by Heard curator Janet Cantley, contains more than 240 photos owned by Kahlo, many adorned with the artist’s revealing commentary. “It’s almost like sitting and looking at her photo album with her,” Cantley says of viewing the show, which is organized into themes like Politics, Her Broken Body and Diego (in reference to her husband, Diego Rivera). The photos features images of Kahlo, of her family, and of her personal heroes — Stalin, Lenin and Gen. Zapata included.

“She made notes on some, left lipstick kisses on others. She’d cut out a face she no longer liked,” Cantley says. “There’s a photo of Diego with his ex-wife Lupe, and she folded it back so she wouldn’t have to look at Lupe.”

Only seven of the photos were actually taken by Kahlo herself; many of the others are of unknown origin, although a smattering are attributed to her father, the professional photographer Guillermo Kahlo, or to notable names like Man Ray, Tina Modotti, and Brassai. The images spent 50 years locked up in Kahlo’s famous home, La Casa Azul, in Mexico City, before being unearthed by Ortiz Monasterio.

Though best known for its exhibitions of Native American and Southwestern folk art, the Heard has expanded its mission in recent years to reflect the art and heritage of other indigenous American cultures, and the Kahlo exhibit might be the highest-profile example of this. But the museum’s roots are also in evidence: It commissioned a local group of female artists and Kahlo uber-enthusiasts, the Phoenix Fridas, to curate a companion exhibit composed of pieces of Mexican folk art and clothing that the Heard already had in its permanent collection. Each “Frida” chose a piece and explained why the object would have resonated with Kahlo herself.

“This will be a lighthearted, interactive area — good for kids,” Cantley says. “Whereas the photography show,” she adds with a laugh, “might not be quite as family friendly!”

Click here to see more photos of Frida.

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