Frida Kahlo: The Immersive Experience
I fell in love with Frida Kahlo when I was 20 years old. She was featured in a Woman and Creativity class. I was captivated by this fierce, beautiful artist who transformed her pain onto canvas and remained unapologetically herself in the face of societal expectations. That same year (2002), a movie about her life was also released, starring the incomparable Salma Hayek. I highly recommend this film! It is a visual work of art. You will not be able to keep your eyes off Salma Hayek. She will haunt your soul.
Imagine my delight and surprise when I realized that Lighthouse Immersive would be featuring Frida Kahlo at the Germania Place? I wasn’t sure what to expect as I dragged my friend to Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood. Perhaps, we’d see some paintings hung with lights glowing underneath them? A few placards detailing the essentials of her life.
Nothing could prepare me for this experience. The room was dark, hushed, and reverent, as we waited for something (that almost felt) holy to begin. The music pierced the silence and startled us, vibrating dramatically into a crescendo as Frida Kahlo’s art began to flash before our eyes. It was like being in a waking nightmare and dream all at once. Our senses were consumed by her paintings as they flashed on the ceilings, walls, and floors around us. We were mesmerized by this woman's life story captured on canvas after canvas.
This is a woman who felt passionately and loved deeply. It was clear her first love was for Mexico, the indigenous heritage, the flora, and fauna are featured heavily in her work.
But alongside her love, simmering on the edge like a papercut to the heart is this overwhelming sense of pain and mourning. Which is understandable. Frida Kahlo held pain and beauty in both hands from the age of 6, when she fell ill with polio. Pain reared its ugly head once again at the age of 16 after a horrific streetcar crash broke her spinal column in three places and left her leg shattered. The pain bled into her relationship with her husband Diego Rivera, who was known for his promiscuity and even began an affair with Frida's sister Cristina.
It is this pain mixed with perseverance that I could not look away from. Frida used every experience she had and threw it into her self-portraits. (It oddly made me think of our society today, and how obsessed we are with our selfies. Could it be that we all want to be seen? That despite our pain and struggles and broken hearts we want someone to look at us and feel us?)
Her paintings are not pretty, some are gruesome and disturbing and hard to look at. But that’s what made Frida Kahlo so powerful. Given everything she had endured, it would be perfectly understandable if she curled up in a corner and slept her life away. But she refused to be muted. She refused to be passive and neutered in her approach to life. Even though her life was filled with hardship, she wanted to feel it. She wanted to feel all of it! She explored her sexuality, her political beliefs, and her very existence with unflinching eyes and then invited you in to take a closer look.
It made me realize that as women: if we stopped worrying and trying so hard to be good, we could finally be free.