Vulgarizing Frido Kahlo came in two ways last week, both ways dumbed her down, stereotyped her, and otherwise wore her image out.

First, we got an exhibit titled Frida. The Immersive Experience” - shamelessly patterned after the traveling “Immersive Van Gogh” show. Both are about special effects, not art.

As Digital Journal reported the story, giant projections of Kahlo’s work also come with “original Mexican music– reportedly to bring her work to life, as if her self-portraits aren’t vivid enough.

Frida full-face

What can be the rationale for such a technological display?

Mara de Anda, Kahlo’s great-grandniece told AFP, “I believe that Frida was very avant-garde and modern, so this fits perfectly.” “Perfectly”? Magnifying the size of Kahlo’s staring, full-face likenesses only sensationalize them and make them grotesque.

Homogenizing Mexican heritage

Then there’s a commentary published by Hyperallergic contending that Kahlo takes on the Mexican Indian culture like a costume. In the words of Joanna Garcia Cheran - a Purépecha Indian from Mexico, the artist's Mexican Indian outfits seen in her work and in her everyday dress offends the actual Mexican Indians.

Cheran writes that when she visited Casa Azul, Frida Kahlo’s home-turned-museum, which is chock full of Mexicana, she felt like a stranger.

She said the pretense of nativism is a form of racial politics. She may don the attire of the Mexican Indian that Chran is, but she doesn't look like her.

'Mythologized Indianness'

Of course, Kahlo didn’t look like Cheran. She wasn’t Mexican by blood. Her father was a German Jew and her mother was half American Indian and half Spanish.

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And to hear Charan tell it, the painter promoted a “mythologized Indianness at the expense of Indigenous people” both in her painting and in the way she presented herself.

And before you think that being born and raised in Mexico entitled her to take the culture into her work, hear Cheran out talking about a cultural ideology invented by Mexican whites.

She argues that it was a “homogenizing” of distinctly different indigenous cultures and an oversimplification of them that offended her.

What appears to bother Cheran the most is Kahlo’s attempt at “Indianness” seen in her adoption of Indigenous outfits - in particular, donning a Tehuana dress. The artist freely admitted in an interview for Excelsior, that she had never been to Tehuantepec and had no connection to the town.

“But of all Mexican dresses, Kahlo has said, “it’s the one I like the most, and that’s why I wear it.” The Arizona State Museum offered another reason, saying that wears native Mexican clothing as an expression of her fierce nationalism.

Cheran’s outrage takes precedence over Kahlo’s politics if you likened it to a white woman making an American Indian outfit her trademark.