This summer, you can get to know Frida Kahlo a little better via photos of her on view at the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art in the exhibit Mirror, Mirror. Barbara Cleaver, a Mexican Indigenous textile expert who identified Kahlo's clothing in the images, shares her plans for her upcoming lecture "What She Wore; Frida's Attire" (2 pm Saturday June 10 $20. 750 Camino Lejo, 982-2226). The images are from the collection owned by Spencer Throckmorton, a New York gallery owner and avid art collector. A modern feminist icon, Kahlo's image represents strength and individuality. Part of her visual identity is her clothing, which is the subject of Cleaver's lecture, and she tells SFR why Kahlo's wardrobe is worthy of a lecture all its own.
What was your involvement in Mirror, Mirror?
Spencer Throckmorton is an old friend, and he asked me to deliver a lecture because he knows of my passionate involvement with Mexican Indigenous textiles and my huge appreciation for Frida Kahlo. [Identifying the clothing] has been a lot of work. … When she died, Diego ordered that her bathroom—which contained a lot of her clothing—be sealed for 50 years, and a few years ago it was opened. There were amazing things in there and a book was done about the collection of textiles. … It's been very exciting to see these pieces we knew from photographs. Not everything in the photographs was in the closet, but a lot of it was and it's been a great help.
What do you think the audience will learn about Frida from this examination of her wardrobe?
I am going to place her in her cultural and political context, and then talk about the actual pieces that she wore. I don't think you can understand what she wore and why she wore it unless you know those things. The most obvious is her Tehuana costume, because that's how people visualize her. But she wore many other things besides that. So, we will talk about her Zapotec Indian costume from the isthmus of Tehuantepec, because that's how most people identify her.
You spend time near some of these Indigenous Mexican cultures in Oaxaca. Can you tell us a little about that?
Oaxaca is an incredibly Indigenous state, it's kind of like the New Mexico of Mexico; it has many Indigenous cultures and languages. The first time I was there was in 1972 and I fell head-over-heels in love with it and the people. For the isthmus where the Tehuantepec costumes are from, it's the closest thing to a matriarchy in the Americas: very strong women, merchants and travellers. One of the reasons this costume appealed so much to Mexican artists and intellectuals of the time, they represent something. The Zapotec people of the isthmus were never completely conquered by the Spanish, and that represented something to the people of post revolutionary Mexico. They were exotic, beautiful and strong.