Playa del Carmen: Frida Kahlo Museum
Quintana Roo, Mexico
A small museum with a few interactive pieces. Great for those who can’t go to Mexico City to her house-museum.
There are no original works of art in this museum. And that is wise, in my view, due to the humid local climate. The museum opened in 2017. Instead, there are authorised reproductions of Kahlo’s masterpieces and some interactive displays, sensory experiences and multimedia projections. You will need about an hour to walk through the exhibits. In my view, it is well curated and a great activity, particularly on a rainy day in Playa.
The PeopLe: Frida Kahlo
The Museum is devoted to Frida Kahlo (1907–1954), a Mexican artist, known for her self-portraits, pain and passion, and bold, vibrant colours. She was a wife of the painter Diego Rivera and their life was full of passion for each other and affairs with other people. I have already outlined her life in my other posts: Blue House of Frida Kahlo (in Mexico City) and House-Studio of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.
The Playa museum has a chronological order of photos and diagrams on the walls, all from Frida's life, for example the tram accident that she had on her 18th birthday, her polio-stricken leg, another one referring to her broken spine and her inability to bear children, yet another one from her stay in New York while her husband Diego Riviera was commissioned in 1931 to create murals for the new Museum of Modern Art. It does not cover all aspects of their life, though. For example, it avoids references to Diego's infidelities which tortured Frida, although it mentions her escapades (and there were plenty). The couple are portrayed as one big love, for example through a portrait where they both merge into one person. You can also read their letters to each other, full of tenderness.
Other displays include an altar for the Day of the Dead, a contemporary exhibit relating to her accident in 1925 (her spine was broken in three places; she also fractured her clavicle and broke her leg into 11 pieces) and subsequent miscarriages, showing a human torso and a red fabric display. In the centre of the museum is a mini theatre with a 15-minute audio-visual video presentation.
The FOCUS: Miniature collages
My favourite part was a set of four artistic miniature collages on the wall, that can be viewed via a small hole. Perhaps I loved it because a hole hides a mystery behind, so you are invited to guess what you can see, from the titles of the sets: Secret/Fires, Frida's Outfits, Affair and Postcards from a Wedding. It is a modern interpretation of her life, her character, her passion and her artwork.
Frida's Outfits was my favourite miniature set. Kahlo used fashion to channel her physical and emotional insecurities into statements of strength and beauty. This is a display of Frida's famous colourful clothes and her complicated relationship with fashion. The dresses are on hangers in a wardrobe in a doll's house and they look so cute as miniatures.
Frida adopted the skirts of Tehuana women as her signature look. She was even featured on the country’s old 500-peso bill in traditional Tehuana costume. Why? Maybe because of its geometry; it was the perfect dress to disguise her physical imperfections. Maybe to distinguish her from her famous husband. Maybe she simply objected to the European dresses that other women were wearing, as a true Mexican patriot. Or maybe she was projecting her feminist and socialist beliefs… After all, the Tehuana are a fascinating matriarchal society based in Oaxaca State. The region is noted for women running great markets here and for its velas, traditional parties where women dress up in extravagant costumes and parade through the streets. The huipiles (blouses) that women wear are full of vibrant colours and elegant patterns.
The Mystery: The ship of dreams
This is a media installation over a bed, in which Kahlo was confined after her accident, and where she began painting. Bedbound, a young Frida taught herself to paint. Her self-portraits have often been described as surreal, but this was her response: 'They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.'
So what reality does the media installation over her bed tell us? In a moving image, people who were important in her life come to the forefront, one after another, to create one joint portrait. Butterflies fly around the wall at the end of the installation.
This is no coincidence, as Frida loved the local Aztec history and often blended elements from Mexican and Aztec culture into her work. The Aztecs believed that the monarch butterfly represents the souls of dead children who are returning to the earth. The natives saw the image of a human face in the motif of the butterfly's wings. Friday portrayed herself a few times with a butterfly in her face.
Furthermore, in Aztec religion, Ītzpāpālōtl (Obsidian Butterfly) was a striking skeletal warrior goddess who ruled over the paradise world of Tamoanchan, the paradise of victims of infant mortality and the place identified as where humans were created. For me, this fits Frida's spirit. She was so untamed, that one can easily imagine her turning into a butterfly, or the warrior goddess, for that matter, guarding the paradise of her unborn dead infant.
As butterflies symbolise resurrection, I found them fitting for this media installation. It could refer to her rebirth in life after the accident.
We have to judge it also in the context of her art, which was full of symbols. After her periods of depression and miscarriages, she liked to use monkeys, hummingbirds, dogs and cats in her artwork. One of her self-portraits depicts her with three spider-monkeys. It looks like a protective symbol as the monkeys sit so comfortably on her shoulder. However, Mesoamerican mythology suggests monkeys were the symbols of lust. I wonder which message had Frida in mind.
According to some art historians, Frida wanted to depict that she was resurrected and started a new life, using a hummingbird in her paintings in place of her necklace, as a symbol of that new life.
Another motif, a thorn necklace that she wore in her self-portrait, could be a symbol of Jesus’s crown of thorns, a symbol of suffering and crucifixion. Well, her simple white frock hints at martyrdom.
In the adjacent space of her bed there is a series of light boxes where her works are shown, including those portraits with the symbolic elements mentioned above. For me, that indicates great curatorship.
Don't miss: the Gift Shop
Normally I don't mention museum shops but this gift shop is rather good, ranging in high quality clothing items, ceramics, jewellery, art objects and original portraits of Frida by contemporary artists.
How to get there:
The museum is on the corner of 8th Street and 5th Avenue. The entrance is at the back of the restaurant, in street 8.
It is open daily from 9:00am-11:00pm.
The entry fee for the general public is $15 USD. For discounts and other options see the photo on the left. There is a 10% discount for Mexicans. For locals with ID there is a 50% discount. For students and senior citizens there is a 10% discount.
MIX and Match
Combine with a beach day: Playa del Carmen beach.