Credit: Carl Van Vechten Photographs / Library of Congress

Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo are arguably one of the most controversial couples in the history of art in Mexico. Their explosive relationship, one which suffered the ebbs and flows of a passionate love, has continued to inspire and interest generations today.

Famous Mexican poet Octavio Paz said it best: “The human couple is the metaphor par excellence, the point of intersection of all forces and the seed of all forms. The couple is time recaptured, the return to the time before time.”

On Thursday, Dec. 8, San Antonians will have a chance to attend the opening of Diego y Frida: Una sonrisa a mitad del camino, a photo exhibit that will take place at the Instituto Cultural de México, 600 Hemisfair Plaza Way. The event, which begins at 7:30 p.m., also will feature a traditional posada mexicana. The exhibit will run until February 2017.

“This exhibition captures (Frida and Diego’s) second marriage phase and their connection with the artistic world of the time,” stated Magdalena Zavala Bonachea, coordinator of visual arts for Mexico City’s Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes. “The relationship with Siqueiros and Orozco, with their assistants, with their students, among others, is also an influence. It also shows the pain and physical deterioration of Frida. Her closeness to death and the last picture of the couple.”

The exhibit was presented for the first time in 2002 at the Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo in Mexico City.

Starting with their marriage in 1929, Kahlo and Rivera were united for almost 25 years until Kahlo’s death in 1954. Their relationship was marked by a series of disagreements, separations, and reencounters, but there was a magnetism that brought the couple back together time and time again.

Many friends, neighbors, and artists witnessed their love and captured Kahlo and Rivera together through photographs. Friends like Nicholas Murray, Edward Weston, and Manuel Álvarez Bravo took photos while the couple lived for a brief time in the United States. These photographs have become an extensive record which opens a window into the unique couple’s daily life. Other artists whose photos will grace the Instituto’s walls include Guillermo Kahlo, Peter Jules, Guillermo Zamora, Juan Guzmán, and more.

Mónica del Arenal, Director of the Instituto Cultural de México. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Baststone.
Mónica del Arenal, Director of the Instituto Cultural de México. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Baststone / San Antonio Report

Instituto Cultural de México Director Mónica del Arenal has been providing consistent programming at the institute since she arrived to San Antonio this summer, including a monarch butterfly-inspired exhibit, book presentations, contemporary photo exhibits, baroque music performances, and more.

Through this new leadership at the Instituto, which was lacking for the last two years, the Mexican government’s goal is to create a strong cultural presence in preparation for San Antonio’s 2018 Tricentennial celebrations.

“The Ministry of Culture, through the National Institute of Fine Arts and the Casa Estudio Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museum, deeply thanks this splendid venue for hosting this photographic exhibition that will undoubtedly reveal intimate aspects of this unique couple,” Zavala stated.

Rivera, who painted murals in places such as Mexico City, Detroit, New York City, and San Francisco, helped cement the pillars for the Mexican Mural movement. His volatile marriage with Kahlo involved many disagreements and both a feeling of sharing and competing when it came to art.

Kahlo was widely known for her self-portraits which painted the trauma of her life. She also is famous for breaking cultural norms in Mexico and has been praised by feminists for her depiction of the female form and excruciating pain. Kahlo suffered lifelong health problems after a streetcar collided with a bus she was riding in 1925. Her recovery often left her in isolation, and it was then that she began to paint her most famous works. She experienced back pain for the rest of her life.

“There have been two great accidents in my life,” she famously said. “One was the trolley, and the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.”

Kahlo’s famous home, known as “La Casa Azul” due to its cobalt blue walls, became a museum in 1958 – four years after her death. Hundreds of visitors come to Coyoacán in Mexico City every day and experience long lines to view the Mexican folk art and the couple’s personal belongings inside the house.

“Fridamania,” as many call it, is alive and well in San Antonio. During the inaugural Frida festival at the Brick Marketplace at Blue Star Arts Complex in July, hundreds of women in trenzas with flowers showed up. Others wore colorful and intriguing clothing as an homage to the pieces Kahlo wore while she walked the streets of Coyoacán. There were Frida’s of all ages, shapes, and sizes at the event and the line to get in was out the door, all the way down to the sidewalk past Blue Star Contemporary.

Organizers underestimated the popularity of the first Frida Fest as it outgrew the location.

The exhibit at the Instituto is an opportunity for San Antonians to show up in droves once again, but this time in celebration of the tumultuous artist couple: Diego y Frida.

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Rocío Guenther

Rocío Guenther worked as a bilingual reporter and editorial assistant for the Rivard Report from June 2016 to October 2017. She is originally from Guadalajara, Mexico and holds a bachelor's in English...