Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Art of Real Life [Carol Marfisi]

I was among thousands of museum goers who attended the Frida Kahlo exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It is an understatement to say that the works were compelling and heart wrenching. Having a bit of anthropological DNA in my blood, I always tend to not only appreciate the main exhibit but the experiential exhibition of the observers. It is quite intriguing to watch how people respond to not only the main feature in a physical space but also how they interact with one another, but mostly strangers as we journey through different historical and cultural planes.

There were obviously many reactions to Frida Kahlo’s life and works. My co-observers focused on different levels and features of the artist and her works. Some were solely concentrated on the aesthetic and technical aspects of her paintings. Others were immensely intrigued by her culture and social dynamics which influenced her creativity. Oddly enough, I didn’t overhear anyone comment on her disability. Her life and brilliance of her works may very well have overshadowed that particular element of her character and life.

I would say that the experience was memorable for me, but rather typical as far as museum expeditions go. It was not until I exited the museum that the real unveiling of life began. Wanting to go into the city, I began to board a tourist bus. With relative naivety, I said to the driver, “Will you please deploy the wheelchair lift?” I should have known when he looked a bit confused and annoyed that drama was right behind. It took 45 minutes for this untrained driver to learn from a tourist from California how to operate the wheelchair accessible equipment. The driver, besides being frustrated and embarrassed, was being harassed by a string of drivers who were behind the tourist bus. They honked and yelled as if that would expedite the process. Many people including the museum staff were visibly upset at this interruption in their schedule. They were people with places to go and people to see and this one stranger in their midst was holding up progress.

Part of me felt bad for the inconvenience but a larger part of me wondered how much the tourists who saw the exhibit were sensitized by their understanding of Kahlo’s life. Did they have a glimpse into the disability experience and how that may have impacted Kahlo’s emotional creativity?

[Image description: the painting "Broken Column" by Frida Kahlo, 1944]


Tim Lacy said...

Dear Carol,

I am ignorant of Frida Kahlo's disability. Please enlighten me.

- TL

FridaWrites said...

Obviously this is an exhibit I would love to see! I've seen a few discussions (art historians, when I've googled, and in actual conversation) of the gender/cultural restraints her work represents while missing the more obvious problem of physical disability. One website says that she must have suffered chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia, in disbelief that spinal and other injuries could cause such continued pain, thus discrediting the pain of the disability she did have. And others refuse to acknowledge even that when they know about it. She had pain--it wasn't all symbolic of other kinds of pain.

I'm sorry for your bus experience and for people's impatience. A friend and I were in Boston a few years ago and waited a long time with a man in a wheelchair on a bus because other people yelled at him. We didn't want to take the bus behind with those mean people even though it would have been faster.

(TL, I'll let Carol answer rather than jumping in since she's just seen the exhibit and may want to say more! Someone had a good post about Frida's art a few years ago, though I only read it a few weeks ago--I can't remember who/where it was.)

Carol Marfisi said...

Thank you for reading my post. As far as I know Frida Kahlo was born with polio and when she was a teenager she acquired a spinal chord injury from a bus accident in Spain.

Many of her paintings are emotional physical representations of her interpretation of her disability.


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