Fig. 1. Frida Kahlo, My Grandtparents, My Parents and I (Family Tree). 1936, Oil and tempera on metal panel, 12 1/8" x 13 5/8". Collection of the
Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Allan Roos, M.D., and B. Mathieu Roos.
Kahlo's father, Wilhelm Kahlo, was a Jew of Hungarian-German descent who emigrated to Mexico at the turn of the nineteenth
century is a well-known fact never denied by the artist herself.7 Thus far, Kahlo's relationship to Judaism has been reduced to two amusing anecdotes, which attest both to the artist's
casual acknowledgement of her Jewish roots and to her tendency to do so precisely when she felt that Jews were being persecuted
or victimized. One incident occurred during a well-attended dinner party at the residence of Henry Ford. As the guests were
sitting around the table, Kahlo is reported to have waited for a break in the conversation in order to publicly ask the host,
a known anti-Semite, in mock innocence: "Mr. Ford, are you Jewish?"8
second incident took place at the Wardell Hotel where Kahlo and Rivera were residing during their Detroit sojourn.9 After discovering that the hotel barred Jews from its premises, both artists declared that they had "Jewish blood"
and threatened to leave at once. The hotel management had no choice but to change the discriminatory regulations.10
demonstration of Kahlo's awareness of the Jewish problem, particularly in the 1930s, was her support for an exhibition of
portraits of Jews by Lionel Reiss which took place in New York City in 1933. The stated
purpose of this show was to emphatically refute Nazi racial theories pertaining to the supposed inferiority of Jews. The endorsement
of Kahlo and her husband is documented by a photograph of the couple attending the opening of the show.11
be sure, neither Kahlo nor her father ever were practicing Jews. In fact, shortly before her death the artist wrote in her
journal that, as a dedicated communist, she "rejects all religions."12 Yet this ideological statement notwithstanding, a close look at her art reveals that Kahlo's sense of religiosity
and spirituality was much more complex.13
the present context, a brief review of several aspects of the artist's relationship to her Jewish heritage will suffice.
Like many other twentieth century Mexican artists, Kahlo embraced "Mexicanidad" and, accordingly, integrated non-European,
Mexican motifs into her art and life. Her espousal of pre-Columbian "idols" and popular Mexican religious art is usually viewed
as a non-religious, political statement of national commitment.14
artist's use of Christian symbols has been variously interpreted by those close to her and by scholars. As Kahlo's youthful
letters reveal, her early Catholic upbringing, under the stern tutelage of her devout mother, clearly did not subside even
when she was a teenager.15 Isolda Piñedo Kahlo, the artist's niece, insists that even as an
adult Kahlo remained "basically, underneath the Communist rhetoric, always Catholic. "16
his study of Kahlo's 1937 painting Memory, Salomon Grimberg offers a slightly different view of this issue. A psychiatrist
by profession, Grimberg stresses the connection between early childhood beliefs and their imprint on the adult's psyche and
argues that Kahlo's use of Christian symbols exposes that, her rational view of herself as an atheist notwithstanding, her
deep internal feeling for Catholicism never totally subsided.17
Judaism is a different story. In the strict sense of Jewish law Frida Kahlo was not Jewish, as her mother was not a
Jew.18 However, according to the laws that dominated European society during the artist's
adult life - the racist laws of Nazism - Kahlo certainly was Jewish.
She was well aware of the fact that, had she been living in various parts of Europe during the 1930s and 1940s, she too would
have been considered a member of the Jewish faith and as such would have shared the "Jewish fate" as well. Many of Kahlo's
Jewish friends report that the artist often spoke of herself as "half-Jewish." After Hitler's rise to power, Kahlo is reported
to have been deeply concerned not only about Nazism in general, but specifically about her Jewish relatives who apparently
still resided in the vicinity of Baden-Baden.19
although far removed from practicing Judaism, evidence points to the fact that Kahlo was interested in her Jewish roots
and viewed them as part of her "genealogical identity." Traces of this covert identity may be found in at least two major
paintings by the artist.
THE HIDDEN FRIDA
Frida Kahlo is not Our Hero, Rufino Tamayo is!
Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991) was a Zapotecan Indian
born in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. He moved to México City where he attended the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plasticas "San
Carlos." Tamayo was exposed to the cultural wealth of pre-Colombian México as he worked as a draftsman at the Museo Nacional
de Arqueologia. While his contemporaries Siqueiros, Rivera and Orozco were advocating art with a message, often political,
Tamayo's work focused on plastic forms integrated with a masterful use of colors and textures.
The Adani Gallery: Rufino Tamayo
Rufino Tamayo. Vida y obra. Biography and works
Born in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 1899 to a Zapotecan Indian family,
Rufino Tamayo is one of the most world-renowned Mexican artists.
Rufino Tamayo - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia -