Curated by researcher Teresa Arcq, this exhibition gathers around 100 works by 15 artists, revealing the intricate artistic network that was formed around Frida Khalo (1907, Coyoacán, México – 1954, Coyoacán, México). The curatorship focus on female artists born or based in Mexico, who were creators of potent artistic productions, such as Maria Izquierdo (1902 – 1955, Mexico), Remedios Varo (1908, Spain – 1963, Mexico) and Leonora Carrington (1917, UK – 2011, Mexico).
During her life, Frida painted only 143 canvases – twenty of which can be seen at Instituto Tomie Ohtake, alongside 13 of her works on paper (nine drawings, two collages and two lithographs). Her vigorous presence also pervades the exhibition, making an appearance in the production of other artists who portrayed her. Working with photography, we can mention Lola Álvarez Bravo (1907 – 1993, Mexico), Lucienne Bloch (1909, Switzerland – 1999, USA) and Kati Horna (1912, Hungry – 2000, Mexico). Her figure was also captured by the lenses of Nickolas Muray (1892, Hungry – 1965, USA), Bernard Silberstein (1905 – 1999, USA), Hector Garcia (1914, Mexico – 1996, USA), Martin Munkácsi (1986, Romania – 1963, USA), and on a lithograph by Diego Rivera (1886 – 1957, Mexico).
One of the most remarkable aspects of the show is the amount of self-portraits and symbolic portraits created by the female Mexican artists attached to Surrealism. For the curator, these works mark a rupture with what separates the public domain from the private sphere. The artists on the exhibition subvert canons by exploring their own psyche through symbols and personal myths. In some cases, there’s a careful appropriation of elements from the pre-Columbian past and indigenous Mexican cultures, like ornaments and accessories that refer to powerful women or goddesses.
The creative intellectual atmosphere and the relationship networks, centred around Kahlo, exhibited in the show were possible due to a confluence of groups of European exiles – such as British Leonora Carrington, French Alice Rahon (1904, France – 1987, Mexico), Spanish Remedios Varo and Hungarian Kati Horna –, artists that came from America and remained in Mexico for the rest of their lives, like Bridget Tichenor (1917, France – 1990, Mexico) and Rosa Rolanda (1895, USA – 1970, Mexico), and other visitors related to Surrealism and attracted to Mexican ancient cultures, such as French Jacqueline Lamba (1910 – 1993, France) and Bona de Mandiargues (1926, Italy – 2000), Swiss Sonja Sekula (1918 – 1963, Switzerland), and North-Americans Marjorie Cameron (1922 – 1995, USA) and Sylvia Fein (b. 1919, USA).
For Paulo Miyada, curator of Instituto Tomie Ohtake, with paintings, sculptures, photos and documents, the exhibition allows the public to get in contact with a challenging aspect of Surrealism, as the intensity, drama and subjectivity of the works exhibited can turn restless even the visitors that are acquainted with the movement.