For the fall exhibition “Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection” NCMA staff members Felicia Knise Ingram and Kevin Kane partnered with production company OLO Creative Farm to create an interpretive immersive room featuring imagery inspired by that found in Frida and Diego’s home, Casa Azul. Within our “Casa Azul”, we presented four features of the house: Frida and Diego’s garden, their display of ex-voto imagery, their collections of decorative objects from Mexican cultural tradition, and a suspended mirror to represent the mirror Frida used to paint herself.
The room created a unique space for visitors to surround themselves with different aspects of Frida and Diego’s home and lifestyle. Therein, we aimed for the following principal educational goal: “visitors will learn that Frida and Diego’s home, Casa Azul, was both an extension of their cultural identity and attracted a circle of artists, writers, and politicians who shared their political beliefs.” Visitors were able to engage with imagery that highlighted the Mexican culture and traditions that both inspired and became shaped by Frida and Diego’s work. The imagery was expanded on in each wall as described below.
Kahlo’s garden was home to monkeys, deer, parrots, dogs, flora, and fauna. Visitors were able to “look out” a simulated window on the left wall to see different plants and animals that would have been seen in Frida and Diego’s garden. Frida’s love for animals and nature is found in her paintings so we wanted to highlight that aspect of her life. To the left of the window, we included photographs and videos of people who visited her home like family members, Nickolas Muray, and even Leon Trotsky and his wife.
Frida and Diego collected different kinds of art, including ex-votos, which are small tin paintings that feature people in distress and saints rescuing them. On our center wall, ten frames hung salon-style featured rotating ex-voto paintings intercalated with photographs of Frida and Diego in their home. Surrounding the frames, diary entries and sketches from Frida’s personal notes were animated.
A pedestal on the right wall of the room carried four objects that would have been seen in Casa Azul: La Catrina, alebrijas, calaveras, and xoloitzcuintli (xolo). Often La Catrina and calaveras (skulls) are part of the Day of the Dead celebration to decorate ofrendas and illuminate death in a playful manner. Frida and Diego collected many calaveras throughout their lives, a connection to pre-Hispanic traditions. Additionally, they collected alebrije sculptures that caught attention with their bright colors and unique craftsmanship. Frida and Diego also surrounded themselves with xolo dogs, again connecting themselves to Mexico’s ancient past. In ancient Mexican folklore, the xolo was the companion to its human caregiver and offered guidance and protection as they traveled through the underworld. While there was only one of each object on display, there were projections on the wall behind showing further examples for each.
We represented two elements from Frida’s bedroom in Casa Azul: a mirror that hung above Frida’s bed while she was in bedridden to encourage her to paint self-portraits, and the words “Despierta Corazón Dormido” or Wake Up, Sleepy Heart which was embroidered on a pillow in her bed. In our Casa Azul, we hung a mirror and projected the text on the floor backwards. People were able to stand underneath the mirror, read the projected text forwards, and see themselves. Additionally, abstracted versions of her paintings were projected on the floor to fill the room with colors from her palette.
With this installation, we hoped to target families and those who are super-fans or visitors who see Frida as an international cultural phenomenon. We were able to cultivate the “Fridamania” from visitors’ initial interest in her artwork and the intertwined images of Frida herself. That is, with the immersive room we aimed to make these static images come to life. We decided to use projection mapping with OLO Creative Farm because they had created an immersive room based on the illustrations of John James Audubon for our visitors the previous year. The room was such a success that we wanted to work with them again and use projection mapping to create the illusion of moving pictures in the installed window pane and frames. Projection mapping allowed a diverse range of imagery associated with Casa Azul to come to life within a confined gallery space.
This interpretive space tied into our mission on the points of fostering interactions among diverse communities, including the formation of collaborative partnerships, as well as the promotion of innovative educational enrichment. The project brought in a more diverse audience of Latinx community members through both visitorship and partnership. By having our labels in both English and Spanish and providing contextual touchpoints from Mexican culture, we were able to more consciously engage with the Latinx audience. For this purpose, we were able to collaborate with members of the Latinx community at the level of creative production, seeking input about the objects and text to feature in the room. Our collaborative partnership with OLO Creative Farm in Italy added another cross-cultural conversation. Finally, our Casa Azul also educated our visitors more about the Mexican culture and traditions that both inspired and became shaped by Frida and Diego. This room focused especially on their home and lifestyle as an extension to their artwork shown in the greater exhibit. It allowed people to be surrounded by images, objects, drawings, and sounds to create a compelling, educational encounter with artists’ work and their lives.