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Frieda Kahlo’s Museum: La Casa Azul

By on May 8, 2016

When I think of Frida Kahlo I think of her unibrow, the red shawl draped around her neck and the flowers in her black hair. And the film on her life starring Salma Hayek. Frida was a Mexican surrealist artist known for her self-portraits drawing inspiration from her chronic physical pain and tumultuous relationship with her husband, Diego Rivera. She never considered herself a surrealist painter saying she paints about her own realities. Due to her sickness, she was often confined to her bed but as relentless as she was, that did not stop her. She painted on her corset or made self-portraits looking at the mirror hung on the canopy of her bed. She was greatly influenced by the indigenous Mexican culture.Her house is filled wth pieces of Mexican art and she became a fashion icon with the traditional Tehuana dress. She is an icon for the feminist around the world for her unwavering depiction of female form. She was not beautiful in a conventional way, unibrow were not standards of beauty then and don’t meet the standard even today. But what made Frida beautiful was that she embraced her imperfections with absolute grace and was unapologetic about it. All of this together made her a cult figure and her popularity seems to grow with time.

 

 

“I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know” ― Frida Kahlo

 

I am voyeuristic in nature, I love peeping into people’s home. If I were to ever be given a superpower, I would want to be invisible, so that I could peep into people’s lives. And how could I miss a chance to walk around Frida Kahlo’s intimate space, look at her books, walk into her bedroom, greedily admire her clay pots, and her paint brushes? Though the house has few of her works (and Diego Rivera’s), the museum is more about the person Frida was. In addition, it exhibits folk art and pre-Hispanic art from her and Diego’s personal collection, personal items, photographs, memorabilia and other interesting artefacts.

Courtyard

Casa Azul, the cobalt blue house is where Frieda lived from her birth until her death in 1954. She shared the house with her husband, Diego Rivera after their marriage. It is a beautiful colonial house with small rooms built around a courtyard with a huge tree in the centre. The rooms with green doors and iron grill behind open up to the courtyard. The first few room leading into each other display some of her, Rivera’s and their friends’ artworks. Rest of the rooms are the personal space they both inhabited together.

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A painting by Diego Riviera

The house remains the way she left it giving a glimpse into her life with her paint brushes, her crutches next to her bedside, her wheelchair in her workspace, the clocks which mark the divorce and subsequent remarriage to Diego Riviera evoke her turbulent relationship with him and her personal struggle with the physical pain.

“There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the train the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.”
― Frida Kahlo

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The dining hall leading to Diego’s bedroom

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The dining room with yellow flooring and green door frames is a beautiful space. There are yellow wooden open cabinets filled with stunning artifacts and Mexican folk art pieces. This was the place where they must have entertained their guest. The Cabinet on the left of the entrance has two clocks which are stopped. The one on the left  bears the date when Frida decided to divorced Diego after she discovered his affair with her sister, Cristina, with the inscription “1939, September, the hours were broken”. The clock on the right has the inscription “ December 8, 1940, at eleven o’ clock, San Francisco, California” was the day they remarried. These clocks represent the time they both were apart.

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The two clock were taken away during our visit but this is the place they were placed.

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The dining hall looking outside at the inscription on the wall, ‘Frida and Diego’

Leading from the dining hall is a small bedroom with a queen size bed supposedly Diego’s room. His hat, jacket and work clothes still hang from the wall rack.

Leading out from the dining hall on the left is the kitchen, my favourite part of the house. I have a thing for beautiful kitchens, and this was unlike anything I’d seen. With the same yellow flooring and a mix of blue and yellow on the walls, wood burning stove, large clay pots, wooden spoon and pans hung on the walls and their names inscribed on the walls makes the kitchen an eccentric and unconventional space.

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      The other wall of the kitchen

A flight of stairs leads to Frida’s studio and library, a big L-shaped  space with large windows overlooking the garden. This has to be the highlight of the museum for her fans. There is a large wooden desk placed at the entrance, her easel with wooden paint brushes hung on the back, her wheelchair, the mirror which she used for self-portraits, vanish jars and colours, her canvass, heir books and their collection of artworks.

I feel in awe and overwhelmed to be standing right at the spot where she painted such masterpieces, to be in such close contact with her universe.

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studio

 

” At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can” –   Frieda Kahlo

Towards the end of the L-shaped corridor are two bedrooms, a day bedroom and a night bedroom. The day bedroom has a single four poster bed with a death mask. There is a photograph of Frida painting hung on the left wall, a mirror which her mother had given her after her accident(which she used to paint self portraits while lying in bed) and a rectangular frame with images of Lenin, Marx, Stalin, Mao and Engels. On the opposite wall is a painting of a dead child symbolizing her struggle with reproduction.In the corner lay her crutches.

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The painting of the dead child and the mirror on the canopy can be seen here.

The night bedroom has a larger four poster bed with a butterfly artwork hung on the roof of the bed gifted by an American sculptor. On the dressing table is a pre-Hispanic toad shaped urn which has Frida’s ashes, a clear reference to Diego who liked to call himself “a toad- frog”. Diego had requested to be cremated and his ashes to be mixed with her, but his request was not met.

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In the bathroom of her night bedroom, numerous of her dresses were found which now have been exhibited in a separate part of the house. The wardrobe was locked for 50 years after her death honouring the wishes of Diego and was opened in 2004. So this part of the museum is a recent addition and the nine looks on display are rotated every five months. The Tehuana dress was her signature style and became her identity over the years. The Tehuana dresses are traditional to the State of Oaxaca in the South East of Mexico. The dress comprised of a short blouse with a long skirt accompanied by floral headpiece. She wore heavy necklaces diverting the attention towards the upper part of her body, away from her legs. Since Tehuantepec was a matriarchal society the dress became a symbol of power and strength.

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Her accessories are on display as well – her sunglasses, binocular, big chunky rings, red leather boots for her right prosthetic leg. Frieda has polio at the age of six and she met with a fatal accident when she was 18. She has to undergo 22 surgeries in her lifetime and her right leg was amputated a year before her death. Another black shoe is on display with the front cut open for the comfort of her right foot.

There are two smaller rooms which have exhibits of contemporary interpretation by designers like Jean Paul Gautier and Givenchy.

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Practical Information
Museum Location and Hours:

The Museo Frida Kahlo is located in the neighbourhood of Cayocan in the South of Mexico City. Opening hours are from 10 am to 5:45 pm, Tuesday to Sunday (Wednesday opening time is 11 am). Closed Mondays. General admission is 80 pesos for international visitors. There is an extra fee (40$) for a permit to take photos inside the museum. The line at the ticket booth can be long, you can also purchase a ticket online but that queue is equally long too.

Getting There:

You can take the metro to the Coyoacan Viveros station. From there you can take a taxi for 40$ or you can walk to the museum. Alternatively, if you decide to buy tickets for the Turibus (HOHO), the southern circuit of the bus goes to Coyoacan.

There is a gift shop inside Casa Azul from where you can buy Frida’s merchandise and replicas of her artwork. I picked a Frida t-shirt and earrings. There are many bohemian cafes, restaurants and markets in the neighbourhood. If you would like, walk to the former home of Kahlo’s husband, artist Diego Rivera, or that of her lover, communist revolutionary Leon Trotsky, both of which have also been transformed into museums.

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Visiting the museum and learning so much more about her left me deeply moved and inspired. I admired the Frida who was unapologetic about her choices whether they were about the clothes she wore, her sexuality or her political stance. So often, we put too much weight on what people think and forget to be true to ourselves. There is so much to learn from her and unlearn from our own lives. I leave you with this personal favourite quote of hers.

 

“I tried to drown my sorrows, but the bastards learned how to swim, and now I am overwhelmed by this decent and good feeling.”
― Frida Kahlo

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Read more about Diego Riviera’s birth Place, Guanajuato.

Looking for what to see in one of the biggest metropolis, Mexico City?

 

                                                               Does she inspire you too?

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5 Comments
  1. Reply

    Akanksha

    May 14, 2016

    What a wonderful post! FK is a personal favourite, like mostly everyones. Thank you! :* But you’ve robbed me of one thing, my own physical experience of strolling in FK’s home! 🙂 Cause I already feel like I’ve been to those rooms, walked on that yellow floor, opened those green doors, and stared at those clocks, all this while sitting in Bombay. Its a weird feeling, knowing a place without physically making the trip. 🙂

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