Finding Frida

The “Modern Mexican Painting” exhibit at Phoenix Art Museum features 80 paintings, 45 artists and 7 themes — including urban artists, surrealism and more. The works were created between 1910 and 1950 by artists that include Diego Rivera, Rufino Tamayo and Jose Clemente Orozco.

This Miramax film will be shown Sunday at the Phoenix Art Museum

A work by Frida Kahlo is part of the museum’s permanent collection, and folks interested in Kahlo’s work can attend a free screening of the Miramax film titled “Frida” at 1pm on Sun, July 10 (space is limited and the film has an “R” rating). “Frida” is directed by Julie Taymor, best known to some for her work on Broadway. Think “The Lion King,” “The Green Bird,” and “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.” The film has an impressive cast, and you can click here for details about the film’s development.

A local theater company called Teatro Bravo is opening a play titled “Frida Kahlo” on Sept 23 at Playhouse-on-the-Park (located in the Viad Building just across the street from the Phoenix Art Museum).

Teatro Bravo describes the work as a “vivid theatrical experience” that “tells the story of the pain and passion of one of the most original women ever to have lived.”

It explores her “complex relationship with prominent painter Diego Rivera” as well as her “controversial affair with Leon Trotsky” and her “provocative romantic entanglements with women.”

Erica Alexandria Mathlin stars in the Teatro Bravo production of Frida Kahlo

Director Israel Jimenez, who acts with Childsplay in Tempe and teaches at Arizona School for the Arts in Phoenix, says he’s long admired the work of both Teatro Bravo and actor Erica Mathlin, who will play Frida as a teen through the age of 47.

Jimenez describes Mathlin as “incredibly talented” but says “this is not an easy role.” Erica has the task, he says, of portraying one of history’s most “iconic, revolutionary and original women” during “the most high-stakes moments of her life.”

“As an artist,” muses Jimenez, “it is not difficult to relate to Frida’s passion for self-expression.” Jimenez, who was born in Mexico City, says the play has “given me the chance to reconnect with my Mexican culture.” He’s enjoying explorations of Mexican traditions, history and art.

Teatro Bravo presents the play Frida Kahlo for just seven dates this fall

So what has he discovered about Kahlo? “Frida had great mystery to her,” reflects Jimenez. “She was a magician when it came to illusions. The way she dressed, the way she wrote in her diary, and of course her art — she always left you wondering what secrets lay underneath.”

“I am always surprised,” adds Jimenez, “at just how much this woman was able to do in the face of such painful obstacles.” Jimenez notes that much of Kahlo’s work was highly disturbing. “She painted images of herself and others in their broken, bloody and explicity painful form.”

Still, he finds “power and strength” in her work. “Unlike most popular artists of the time,” observes Jimenez, “Frida painted the hidden parts of her consciousness with remarkable visceral imagery.”

Explore this book by Margaret Frith if your family enjoys illustrations by Tomie dePaola

Jimenez says he admires Kahlo’s passion. “Whether it was for politics, for expression, or for love and acceptance,” reflects Jimenez, “she had an undying will for life.” All this despite the fact that “death haunted her from a very young age.”

Time spent with Kahlo’s story has inspired Jimenez to allow his voice to be heard “without hesitation” — even “when the road brings heartbreak and pain.” He shares that as a director he wants to “portray a side of Frida that is much more personal and intimate than what people have seen before.”

Though Jimenez says the production is most appropriate for “mature audiences,” he notes that “Frida is an incredible inspiration for young audiences.” Jimenez says he “wouldn’t hesitate” to bring younger theater-goers, especially those who enjoy theatrical elements like puppetry and mask work, along.

Phoenix Art Museum and Teatro Bravo offer rich opportunities to learn more about Latino arts and culture. And as Jimenez appears to have discovered for himself, time spent “finding Frida” is a lovely exercise in finding oneself.

— Lynn

Note: “Frida Kahlo” was written by Ruben Amavizca-Murua, with English translation by Liane Schirmer and Eve Muller. It’s being presented as part of the CALA Arts Festival with support from the CALA Alliance.

Coming up: Art meets bullying prevention

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