Copyright Garciela Iturbide, 2008 courtesy ROSEGALLERY
This an interesting little book, perhaps two books within one set of covers, a fictional story, complemented by a related photographic body of work. The fictional story is written by Mario Bellatin, titled Demerol, Without Expiration Date and is about the “recent” artistic work being completed by Frida Kahlo. Except of course that Kahlo passed away in July 1954. But I guess that is what makes this story interesting, eh? But this story is not what captures my interest, it is the photographs by Graciela Iturbide.
Starting from the reverse side of this book is Graciela Iturbide’s El Bano De Frida Kahlo, a photographic project about the bathroom of Frida Kahlo. This photographic project was created at Kahlo’s home at La Case Azul (Blue House), located in Coyoacan, Mexico City, a museum housing the artifacts of her life.
One aspect of trying to understand a photographic project that is essentially about a specific person, is to better understand who the person might be. I found myself learning a lot more about Frida Kahlo. I came to better understand the difficult life that Kahlo had to endure, while yet pursuing her artistic passion and maintaining her marriage, divorce and then re-marriage to the sometimes larger than life artist, Diego Rivera. But Iturbide’s project is more intimate, private and personal, and we see very little of Kahlo’s creative endeavors.
As background for Iturbide’s book, Kahlo had a number of personal medical problems to overcome, such as polio as a young girl. More tragically, she was in a severe bus accident in 1925 that led to numerous surgical procedures, the eventual lose of one leg and the majority of her time in constant pain for the remainder of her life. A difficult life.
Iturbide photographed one of Kahlo’s private sanctuaries, a place that allowed her to deal with her pain, problems and come to grips with her personal situation. In addition to the essentials of a bathroom, I see within the photographs the needed elements for someone who has special needs. The first photograph in this book illustrates the many pieces of equipment that were needed by Kahlo. There is also a poster of Lenin, perhaps to provide Kahlo with inspiration, but it seems odd in this context, located within a bathroom. I see back braces, crutches, arm braces, body braces and other medical devices that Kahlo required from time to time. Iturbide also photographed a gown that Kahlo wore (below) with the multitude of stains that were acquired over the many years of use. The hanging gown, with it’s gauzy semi-transparency, seems to create a presence of Kahlo herself.
The walls have extra hand holds and side railings. There is a hot water bottle mounted on the wall, immediately accessible, probably to help sooth away her constant pain. The enima tubing that had to help her to maintain some semblance of personal hygiene and maintain her sense of humanity. The poignant photograph of the back brace hooked on the wall, but located ever so near a side hand railing, although a nicely geometric photograph, the content of this photograph saying so much more about the condition of the user. There is a photograph of her artificial leg, but taken propped up outside against a wall, perhaps in the courtyard, a little symbolic of the duality of this medical device. A medical earth-bound necessity but yet a potential source of freedom, to be able to extend oneself beyond the confines of any one place.
In one photograph, I see that her bathroom has a large window that the two sides spread open to the outside. In another photograph, it bathroom window seems to be located on the second floor of the house, adjacent to what appears to be a tree lined courtyard. One can only speculate that if this window was a symbole or even a souce of an escape of her thoughts from her current conditions.
I see the elements that remind me of the humanity of a great artist, the details of everyday life that had to be dealt with. These are reminders of the fragility of the flesh, which probably kept Kahlo very grounded. We witness her somber and stained medical gown, very unlike her public persona we see so often in her paintings in which she is wearing wildly colorful and decorative dresses. The medical gown speaks of the personal hardships that the many resulting surgical procedures probably had on her and to remind us of what her spirit accomplished in the face of these hardships.
The book was jointly published by ROSEGALLERY and Galeria Lopez Quiroga, published in both English and Spanish versions. The hardcove book printed in China, has duo-tone photographs with a spot lacquer finish. The resulting small photographs are delicate and like little gems to be enjoyed, although I would like to have seen them printed larger.
by Douglas Stockdale