The Portland Art Museum (PAM) debuted the “Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism” exhibit on Feb. 19. It is set to be PAM’s featured exhibition running until June 5. The Exhibition features over 150 works documenting the iconic and revolutionary lives of Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, placed in context with their contemporaries.
This is not an exhibition that primarily consists of Frida Kahlo’s work. While Kahlo and Rivera are the focal point of this exhibition, there are only 23 pieces by Kahlo and 19 by Rivera. Through heavy contextualization, the lives and influences of two revolutionary artists are reimagined to highlight how the Mexican modernist movement has been overlooked despite its influence on art, politics, philosophy and anti-colonial perspectives.
As part of the exhibition, PAM has partnered with two groups of artists that will be painting live murals at the suggestion of PAM collaborator and artist Hector Hernandez.
“This is something that Orozco did at the MoMA in New York in 1940 at the exhibition of ‘Twenty Centuries of Mexican art,’ and Orozco painted on fresco, and it was well received,” Hernandez said. “Because it was not only you know, the display of finished products so far. It was the creation itself in which people were witnessing.”
Hernandez leads a team consisting of local artists Angennette Escobar and Christian Barrios to work on this live mural, as well as Victor Hugo Garza who has created a digital mural which interacts with the physical one. By morphing into different images, the digital mural mimics the transitions of the physical highlighting the power of the creation process.
The exhibition draws the attendees’ attention to how Mexican modernism subverts Western and European modernism by placing modernist styles in dialogue with pre-colonial art and culture. This dialogue creates space to highlight the beauty of a pre-Hispanic culture. Mexican Modernism emerged in the aftermath of the 1920 Mexican Revolution and intended to create a unified Mexican identity or Mexicanidad.
Hernandez is a veteran artist with two masters degrees and several years of collaboration with PAM. However, like Mexican Modernism, he believes Mexican artists are still significantly overlooked.
“My line of work is probably too Brown for some taste in the Northwest,” Hernandez said. “I have applied for Call for Artists or RFQ and I have never been selected … Even when I was doing my Masters, I had to fight because they didn’t know what Mexican art was. I had to defend myself.”
Even though Hernandez and Brown artists have been disregarded, Hernandez identifies Mexican culture as having a massive influence not only in the US but across the world.
“It’s like, every 50 years, they have to discover Mexico,” Hernandez said. “Who proposed the use of acrylic paint as a form for fine art pieces? It was Mexican painters. Who proposed the explorations of subjects like Frida did with sexuality?”
To showcase this movement the exhibition has pieces from the “big three” of the Mexican muralist movement that lead to the popularization of Mexican modernism: Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros. The conversations between the muralist movement, Kahlo’s “magical-realism” and the historical political movements occurring in Mexico, populism, communism and anti-colonialism, provide a rich historical context to view the PAM exhibition.
Kahlo’s portrayal of her Mestiza identity acts as an early call to the Mexicayotl movement which sought to revive Indigenous cultures that were brutalized and fractured through European colonization. Through the embodiment of Tehuana culture, a cultural descendant of the Zapotec civilization, Kahlo questions gender identity and Western superiority throughout her works.
While Kahlo could be considered white passing and affluent, her depiction of indigeneity was a part of a growing movement to celebrate pre-Hispanic societies. According to Alberto McKelligan Hernandez, assistant professor of art history at Portland State University, “no one in post-revolutionary Mexico would have read the image as Kahlo presenting herself as a Tehuana.” Kahlo was apart of an artistic movement seeking to make visible Indigenous cultures that had previously been silenced by colonialism.
This exhibition acts as a celebration of anti-colonial ideologies that erupted in the wake of the Mexican Revolution. With a student ID, a day pass is $22, a year pass $25 and without ID it is $25 for a day pass. LC students should take advantage of this opportunity to visit the exhibit.