Crédits : Getty Images
A timeless vision
The mainstream appropriation of an artistic personality can have two effects. Firstly, overexposure often inevitably reduces influence. Frida Kahlo is not exempt from the curse of ‘too much of a good thing’. However, there is also the way an artist’s ideas, their universe, their essence are fed to the world. Kahlo’s expression holds an oniric, luxurious and colourful nature while simultaneously showing a brutality of life – the violence of her own reality. To quote the artist herself, “They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.” It is precisely this principle that a number of Afro-descendant bloggers and creatives relate to and use to inspire their work. Corinne Gabele, 30 years old and French-Congolese, explains, “I started a series of self-portraits in 2011. Black Kahlo was a tribute to Frida Kahlo.” The jewelry designer based in Paris adds, “she’s an artist I’ve always loved. She embodies dedication and hope to overcome hardship. Her self-portraits told her story : the search for her identity and self-acceptance. And these are universal themes. No matter where you come from or who you are, everybody can relate to Frida Kahlo.”
Courtesy Demoizelle Coco
Courtesy Omar Victor Diop / Galerie Magnin-A
“Free Da Gum”Courtesy Tony Gum
A Political Muse
Recognising Frida Kahlo as a timeless muse, these afro-descendant artists and bloggers claim to relate to who the Mexican artist was throughout her life : at the very core of her being, a feminist, asserting her political and sexual freedom. The way she wore her unibrow and upper-lip hair was a way of freeing herself from aesthetic codes. In an age of #BodyPositivity advocacy, it is remarkable how ahead of her time this woman was. It is worth noting the ease with which she could switch to her male alter ego and the memory of her female conquests which has turned Kahlo into a modern day queer icon. Even her legendary flower crown and floral dresses were more than mere sartorial considerations but rather a statement, in honour of her traditions and indigenous heritage. All of these emblematic codes are reappropriated or reimagined to fit a context more rooted in African cultures: replacing floral dresses with dutch wax prints or African woven fabrics; turning the flower crowns into headwraps just like the Senegalese photographer Omar Victor Diop in his Remixing Hollywood project or Corinne Gabele in her Black Kahlo series.
« Ode to Frida » Courtesy Jabu Nadia Newman
« Catalyst » Courtesy Bumi Thomas
For Bumi Thomas, the British artist of Nigerian descent behind ‘Catalyst’ from the series F.R.I.D.A. —a visual tribute to Frida Kahlo— the reinterpretation of Kahlo’s art is a political act, through which afropolitan youth can work towards mental decolonisation. “There is definitely a synergy between Frida and black millennials. From my perspective this is due to the desire to deconstruct pre and post colonial ideations of the ‘Other’ that we have been prescribed and to reclaim authorship of our identity in the local and global space. With Frida, we share the sense of isolation that comes from feeling unseen, there is a unique pain that dwells in the heart of the outsider that is simultaneously alienating and liberating. Today, we find ourselves on the verge of a new era, a world in which the images we conjure and the statements we make will set the tone for a new age. I think our role is to serve as agents of change, to ensure that in our wake the future we seek is nurtured safely from the metaphysical womb of our thoughts into the physical moulds of our actions. We are children of the revolution forging paths with our creative spirit, disrupting cultural dissonance whilst reconstructing how to appropriate our experiences of migration, reintegration, displacement and transformation; seeking to emerge from the anthropological excursion of transcultural pollination with contemporary yet visually accurate representations of our true selves.”
These heiresses of Kahlo are part of a generation that has to witness advancement in women’s rights fluctuate between snatched wins, arbitrary recessions and inspiration that goes beyond style. Exemplarity is something that they aim for: a place in the sun as equals of their male counterparts. Black women are battling massively to gain more visibility in the artistic scene and for the acceptance of a more diverse beauty. Frida Kahlo is definitely an icon in pop culture, one who carries with her a global impact and a legacy that every community can recapture in their own terms, traumas and contexts.