While the popularity of Frida Kahlo's art has exploded in the last decade in the U.S., also worth exploring is the work of other artists and the cultural revolution that shaped 1930's Mexico following. Kahlo herself liked to say that she was born in 1910, the year of the Revolution. The social and cultural upheaval of this period profoundly impacted the country.
Mexico in the 1930's was the place to be for artists and intellectuals. Communism was a romantic dream and surrealism shattered barriers. Mexico was a honey pot to political figures like Trotsky and surrealists like André Breton, Max Ernst and Roberto Matta who became acquainted with homegrown artists like the Mexican Muralists (Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Clemente Orozco), Remedios Varo and poet/writer Octavio Paz. Furthermore, it was no wonder that surrealists were attracted to post-Revolutionary Mexico, for part of their tenet was "to help the advancement of the proletariat and in the destruction of capitalist society."1
Other women artists besides Kahlo also found their voice. "The liberating potential of surrealism served the cause of women in multiple ways. It became the form through which they could transform and control the universe, and it provided a means of self-scrutiny. It also placed the woman in the double role of becoming both the painter and the painted, in contrast to her traditional role as the object of someone else's gaze."2 This is undeniable true when looking at female artists in Mexico during this time. Though not a surrealist, Tina Modotti arrived as Edward Weston's model (she also modeled for Diego Rivera) and remained as a photographer in her own right. Painter Leonora Carrington came with surrealist Max Ernst and stayed on to create her own world blending the fantastic and Mexican influences.
While the release of Frida hopefully signifies greater interest in this period of Mexican history and art, her paintings have special resonance with a modern audience. Though Octavio Paz was not writing about Kahlo in his seminal work The Labyrinth of Solitude, his definition of La Chingada could be applied to her. "Who is the Chingada? Above all, she is the Mother. Not a Mother of flesh and blood but a mythical figure. The Chingada is one of the Mexican representations of Maternity, like La Llorona or the "long-suffering Mexican mother". He then goes on to explain: "What is the Chingada? The Chingada is the Mother forcibly opened, violated or deceived. The hijo de la Chingada is the offspring of violation, abduction or deceit."3 Could it not be said that the childless Kahlo was the Chingada artist, and that her paintings were her symbolic bastard offspring, her "hijos de la chingada"?
Frida is only one story. "Diego", "Leonora", "Tina", "Orozco" and "Siqueiros" have yet to be told.