Frida Kahlo and Tina Modotti

  • Laura Mulvey
Part of the Language, Discourse, Society book series (LDS)


André Breton went to Mexico, as to a dreamland, to find there that magic ‘point of intersection between the political and the artistic lines beyond which we hope that they may unite in a single revolutionary consciousness while still preserving intact the identities of the separate motivating forces that run through them’.1 Fatal point, we may think as we survey its histories in this century: art corroded and destroyed by politics; politics smothered and sweetened by art. Yet the hope is necessary. Breton found it particularly in the paintings of Frida Kahlo, in Mexico, in 1938, work which blended reverie, cruelty and sexuality — the surrealist virtues, whose enchantment was heightened for Breton by the connection with Trotsky (then living in Frida Kahlo’s ‘Blue House’, her self-portrait hanging on his study wall).2


Mexico City Communist Party Private Citizen Henry Ford Hospital Mexican Culture 
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  1. 1.
    André Breton, ‘Frida Kahlo de Rivera’, in Surrealism and Painting (New York: Harper and Row, 1972).Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    See Florence Arquin, Diego Rivera: The Shaping of an Artist, 1889–1921 (Oklahoma: Oklahoma University Press, 1971). Rivera was born in 1886.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    See Dickran Tashjian, Skyscraper Primitives (Middletown: Weslyan University Press, 1975), and Catherine Turrill, ‘Marius de Zayas’, in Avant-garde Painting and Sculpture in America 1910–25, catalogue, Delaware Art Museum, 1975.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    ‘The Crisis of the Easel Picture’ (1948), in Clement Greenberg, Art and Culture (Boston: Beacon Press, 1961).Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    See Marevna [Vorobëv], Life in Two Worlds (New York: Abelard-Schulman, 1962) and Life with the Painters of La Ruche (London: Constable, 1972).Google Scholar
  6. 12.
    For a recent political analysis of the Mexican revolution, see Donald C. Hodges and Ross Gandy, Mexico 1910–1976: Reform or Revolution? (London: Zed Press, 1979).Google Scholar
  7. 13.
    ‘El Ateneo de la Juventud’ (The Athenaeum of Youth) was an intellectual society founded in 1909 with the purpose of reforming Mexican culture. See Carlos Monsivais, ‘Notas sobre la Cultura Mexicana en el Siglo XX’ in Historia General de Mexico, vol. 4 (Mexico, 1976).Google Scholar
  8. 14.
    Sheila Rowbotham, Lynne Segal and Hilary Wainright, Beyond the Fragments (London: Merlin Press, 1981). For another approach, see Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, ‘The Personal is Not Political Enough’, Marxist Perspectives, 8 (Winter 1979–80).Google Scholar
  9. 16.
    Walter Benjamin, ‘Louis-Philippe or the Interior’, Charles Baudelaire: Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism (London: New Left Books, 1973).Google Scholar
  10. 17.
    Manuel Alvarez Bravo, quoted in Mildred Constantine, Tina Modotti: A Fragile Life (New York and London: Paddington Press, 1975).Google Scholar
  11. 18.
    See Hayden Herrera, ‘Self-Portrait of Frida Kahlo as a Tehuana’, in Heresies, 4 (1978–9).Google Scholar
  12. 19.
    See Bertram D. Wolfe, ‘Rise of another Rivera’, Vogue (1 November 1938).Google Scholar
  13. 20.
    See Jean Charlot, An Artist and his Art, vol. 2 (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1972).Google Scholar
  14. 21.
    See Gloria Kay Giffords, Mexican Folk Retablos (Tucson: Arizona University Press, 1974).Google Scholar
  15. 22.
    Anita Brenner, Idols Behind Altars (New York: Biblo and Tannen, 1976). This book contained photographs by Modotti and Weston.Google Scholar
  16. 23.
    Hayden Herrera, Frida Kahlo (New York: Harper and Row, 1982).Google Scholar
  17. 26.
    See Carleton Beals, Mexican Maze (Philadelphia: J. P. Lippincott, 1931).Google Scholar
  18. 27.
    For this period see Photography/Politics: One (London: Commedia, 1979) and John Willett, The New Society: Art and Politics in the Weimar Period 1917–33 (London: Thames and Hudson, 1978).Google Scholar
  19. 28.
    Walter Benjamin, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, Illuminations (London: Fontana, 1970).Google Scholar
  20. 29.
    The metaphor of the’ stricken deer’ has a tradition in Mexican poetry. See, for instance, ‘Verses Expressing the Feelings of a Lover’ by Sor Juana Inez de La Cruz (Juana de Asbaje 1651–95): If thou seest the wounded stag that hastens down the mountain-side, seeking, stricken, in icy stream ease for its hurt, and thirsting plunges in the crystal waters, not in ease, in pain it mirrors me. Translated by Samuel Beckett in Octavio Paz (ed.), Anthology of Mexican Poetry (London: Calder and Boyars, 1959). On the theory of the emblem, and Sor Juana’s practice of it, see Robert J. Clements, Picta Poesis (Rome, 1960).Google Scholar

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© Laura Mulvey 1989

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  • Laura Mulvey

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