Imagining Frida Kahlo at Instituto Cervantes

Words crafted into essay, sculptures done in terracota and wire, photographs and an animated short film, a two-part quatrain, and dance framed in multi-media, altogether form part of the tribute by Filipina writers and artists for the enigmatic Mexican painter and feminist icon Frida Kahlo this July at the Instituto Cervantes. Writers Jessica Zafra and Marjorie Evasco, sculptress July Lluch, filmmaker Ellen Ramos, visual artists Steph Palallos and Wawi Navarroza, and dancer Myra Beltran will take part in Queremos tanto a Frida – Mahal namin si Frida, a series of cultural events to be held at the Instituto Cervantes premises.

Queremos tanto a Frida - Mahal ka Namin Frida is part of worldwide celebrations marking the 100th birth anniversary of the artist Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo, who was born on July 6, 1907, three years before the revolution that toppled the dictator Porfirio Diaz. “The fact that we were able to bring together some of the country’s formidable women writers and artists to create new works to honor Mexico’s greatest woman painter is a feat in itself,” says Instituto Cervantes Director José Rodríguez. “This is also great way of reminding everyone of the deep ties between the Philippines and the Spanish-speaking world, and speaks eloquently of the possibilities of present and future collaboration,” says Rodríguez.

Frida Kahlo, an artist and feminist icon, is well-known for her self-portraits which depicted her emotional pain and physical suffering through symbolism. Attacked by polio at a very young age and crippled by an accident as a teenager, she spent her years in agony, being unable to give birth and having to endure her philandering husband. Her misery is revealed in her works, which dwell on the themes of pain, female disfigurement, and gender. Her surrealist art has been described by Andre Breton as a “ribbon around a bombshell” for “its convulsive beauty.” She died on July 13, 1954.

In the last three decades, she has gained the respect of the artistic world and even become a popular figure for the public, resulting in several movies about her life. One of the best films about her life is Frida, naturaleza viva, which was directed by Paul Ledouc in 1984. It stars actress Ofelia Medina as Frida. This film will be shown at Instituto Cervantes, at 6pm on July 6.

Jessica Zafra, Julie Lluch, Wawi Navarroza, and Steph Palallos

On July 6, at 8 pm, Instituto Cervantes opens the month-long tribute with Frida Kahlo and the Order of Pain -- a reading by the writer Jessica Zafra’s of her essay on media’s portrayal of the Mexican artist at Instituto Cervantes’ Galeria de Exposiciones. “Her international fame really started decades after her death, and the media has everything to do with it”, Zafra says. According to Zafra, Filipinos, especially women, can draw inspiration from Kahlo’s “refusal to let her physical disabilities prevent her from leading a full life. Although she is frequently portrayed as a victim, I don’t think she regarded herself as one,” she points out.

Zafra's reading will be followed by the launching of Abducidas, a joint exhibit of the sculptors Julie Lluch and Step Palallos, and visual artist Wawi Navarroza.

Lluch’s homage to Kahlo is a life-size terracota bust based on several self-portraits of the Mexican painter. Busto incompleto (Incomplete Bust) was done with “trepidation”, she says. “Frida has a very definite image of herself. She knows how to project herself,” says Lluch. “I was afraid it would not measure up to expectations, do justice to such a great artist but I like the outcome.”

Still Missing You, by Wawi Navarroza

Navarroza’s Santa Frida is a series of photographs influenced by the figure and works of Kahlo. Palallos, on the other hand, makes use mainly of wire in creating Yugo (Yoke), an installation inspired by The Two Fridas -- one of Kahlo’s more popular paintings.

“I’ve always been a fan,” says Palallos, who studied art in Spain. “Her works were autobiographical…she drew from what she knew best – herself.”

“Her visual language was simple and direct – even now we all can relate to her pain and loss even though we’ve never been skewered by an iron pole or have had three abortions,” she says. “Strip of her labels…you’ll see she was an honest artist who painted her reality.”

Romancing Venus, Ellen Ramos

On July 14, at 7:30 pm at Instituto Cervantes, poets Kooky Tuason, Charms Tianzon, Ginny Mata, Aimee Marcos and Anabel Bosch of Romancing Venus offer an evening of poetry inspired by the works of Kahlo.

On July 21, 8 pm, Ellen Ramos’ animated short film “En el baño con Frida (Frida in the Bath)” premieres at Instituto Cervantes. Ramos says she drew inspiration for her work from Kahlo’s painting “What the Water gave Me”, which was “like a point-of-view (POV) shot in filmic terms.”

Lo que el agua me dio, one of the most surrealist paintings of Frida Kahlo

“I simply took a single frame/intimate moment in her life as represented by this particular work…I am struck by her strong individuality and honesty. She was able to transcend the physical and emotional pain and translate this into passionate, volatile creative work,” says Ramos. “I chose to do this in animation (which is time-consuming and tedious by itself), as it allows me to invent a dynamic hybrid universe of the real and imagined,” explains the filmmaker.

Marj Evasco, Myra Beltran

The tribute ends with a twinbill on July 28, starting at 8 pm at the Galeria de Exposiciones with poet Marj Evasco and dancer Myra Beltran.

Evasco speaks to Kahlo in her reading of “Diario Intimo” -- a two-part prose poem hewn from the book “The diary of Frida Kahlo, an Intimate Self-portrait”.

“A facsimile of Frida Kahlo’s diary kept me company for some time,” says Evasco. “Frida is a fascinating figure. What I like about her life is how she transformed all her pain into art. She transcended her pain with her art and yet did not deny her pain.”

Dancer Myra Beltran brings the curtains down with “Frida ante el Espejo (Frida Facing the Mirror)” a solo framed in multi-media images of Kahlo’s paintings which shows “her spirit winning over adversity and human weakness.”

To complete the tribute to Frida Kahlo, the Embassy of Mexico and Instituto Cervantes will present Mexican Cinema in the times of Frida Kahlo, a film cycle of Mexican films produced during the last decade of Frida Kahlos’s life. The cycle comprises four films directed by the movie industry giants Emilio Fernandez and Luis Buñuel: Maria Candelaria (1944), Victimas del pecado (1950), the classic Los Olvidados (1950), and A Woman Without Love (1951). This cycle is genuine proof that Mexican cinema had a prestigious past way before the rise of directors like Gonzalez Iñárritu (Amores perros, Babel), Cuarón (Y tu mamá también) and Guillermo del Toro (El laberinto del fauno).

Los Olvidados, Buñuel's masterpiece will be shown at Instituto Cervantes as part of the cycle Mexican Cinema in the times of Frida Kahlo

Queremos tanto a Frida – Mahal namin si Frida is organized by Instituto Cervantes, in collaboration with the Embassy of Spain, AECI (Agencia Española de Cooperación International) and the Embassy of Mexico. Entrance is free. To reserve or to inquire further, please contact Instituto Cervantes at 536 63 77 (Isabel).

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