Suzanne Barbezat

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Last September, the V&A announced a 2018 exhibition dedicated to Frida Kahlo’s wardrobe and artefacts. “The V&A will present the first exhibition to be held outside Mexico of Kahlo’s clothing and personal possessions, including prosthetics, medicines, accessories, jewellery, photographs and letters,” the V&A said, generating public excitement.

Suzanne Barbezat is a travel writer, teacher and anthropologist based in Oaxaca, Mexico. Here, she talks to Art is Alive about her brilliant book titled Frida Kahlo at Home. It explores the spaces – the Caza Azul, her studio and the Mexican sites and landscapes she loved so much – the celebrated artist Frida Kahlo called home.

The remarkable title examines Frida’s life, covering her childhood, her marriage to fellow artist and love of her life Diego Rivera, her connections with Trotsky and many other artists and writers who inspired her.

Richly illustrated, the book features Frida’s paintings together with archival images ranging from family photographs, objects and artefacts she collected. Frida Kahlo drew almost exclusively on Mexican themes and styles in her work, and filled her home with Mexican folk art. The Blue House where “she was born, lived, celebrated, suffered, loved and died” takes centre stage through archival materials and stunning photographs.

The book provides an intimate view into how these places and personal moments shaped the most famous Mexican artist of all times. A must-have!

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How did you approach the creation of this book?
I wanted to explore Frida’s relationship to her home and environment, but also the larger context of Mexico in the time period that she lived. It was also important to me to show that, although Frida’s work was clearly very personal, it also contains a strong political message. Getting the chance to immerse myself in Frida’s world was a wonderful privilege and a great pleasure.

Did you uncover a new side of Frida while exploring the house, spending time in the house?
I think many people are aware of the difficulties and pain Frida suffered in her life, but spending time in her home allowed me to sense the great joy that she took in making her surroundings beautiful and the generous hospitality she showed to all who visited her. She also had a very playful (sometimes raunchy!) sense of humor which is often overlooked in the focus on the difficulties she faced.

What was the most striking aspect of Frida’s personality do you think?
The most striking thing about her to me is her bravery, both in her personal life and her work. She faced her troubles head-on and dealt with them gracefully and creatively and found joy wherever she could. She was an independent thinker and forged her own path throughout her life. Even though her work was not always well received in her lifetime, she stayed true to her personal vision and kept creating the art that she felt called to make.

Why do you think Frida’s become such an icon after her death?
There are several factors that contributed to Frida’s present day popularity. First of all, the seeds of her fame were certainly planted in her art. Her work speaks to us on a level that feels very current: her numerous self-portraits and her depiction of difficult and taboo subjects seem to fit in perfectly with our current culture of selfies and oversharing. Her unusual beauty and fabulous sense of style make her image easy to identify and memorable, which has also been a contributing factor. Frida’s husband, Diego Rivera, demonstrated great foresight in creating a trust and bequeathing both his and Frida’s art and their collections, as well as the Blue House, to the Mexican people. It effectively created a pilgrimage site for her admirers to go to learn more about her and feel close to her. Over the years since her death, Frida has become a symbol of female strength and ability to overcome hardship, and her popularity shows no signs of abating.

What’s your next project and is it related to Frida?
I have a few different projects in the pipelines and have discussed some ideas for other books about Frida with my publisher, but nothing concrete to announce at this time. I’m also setting up a Mexico City tour to visit places of interest relating to Frida, Diego, and their art, so I’m looking forward to introducing people to Frida’s world in a more direct, experiential way.