Things to do: See Immersive Frida Kahlo

Mara Kahlo stands at the edge of a large room in a converted building near the intersection of Beltway 8 and I-10. His gaze wanders with admiration over the four walls that surround him.

“It’s an honor and a responsibility to be here. I get emotional even now,” she says. “You can see his sensitivity, his freedom and his passion. It’s just wonderful.

It speaks of the woman whose face – painted by her own hand – looks down from the top of these high walls. She is a family member and sister of her own grandmother Cristina, the well-known artist Frida Kahlo. Which means that Mara is Frida Kahlo’s great-niece.

“She loved Mexico and she loved those beautiful dresses and the flowers. She always did a lot for the culture. I’m very proud of her and our mission is to continue her work,” she adds. Here you can see both Frida the artist and Frida the woman I was born the year before Frida [passed]. But I see my mother and my aunts, and you can hear Frida’s heart beating.

Kahlo is in Houston, along with her own daughter, Mara De Anda, as special guests for the premiere of Immersive Frida Kahlo.

Click to enlarge

Mara Kahlo and her daughter, Mara de Anda. Frida Kahlo is Mara Kahlo’s great-aunt.

Photo by Bob Ruggiero

The main attraction of the experience is a 42-minute, 360-degree digitally projected film in that same room where dozens of Kahlo’s works seem to come to life and morph into each other while silently recounting the story of his life and his art. Photos of Kahlo, vintage film footage and the artwork of her former husband, Diego Rivera, add context. In numbers, the film consists of 500,000 cubic feet of art in 90,000,000 pixels and 1.2 million video frames.

Participants feel like they have entered the paintings and can visually scan each of the walls which feature different animated sequences. At one point, the ground even appears to shift and move with the optical illusions of digital projections. Footage shows Kahlo painting her face on the head of an injured deer, which then slowly turns forward. The images are by turns beautiful, captivating and disturbing.

Click to enlarge A young Frida watches from the walls.  - KYLE FLUBACKER'S PHOTO

A young Frida watches from the walls.

Photo by Kyle Flubacker

Unfortunately, there is no narration of Kahlo’s life or an actor’s voiceover of her words. But the accompanying music by Luca Longobardi sets the tone (even if that evening the volume seemed somewhat low).

Immersive Frida Kahlo
is produced/designed by Lighthouse Immersive as part of the studio development of Impact Museums, which is also responsible for the similar project Immersive Van Gogh experience.

This debuted a few months ago and will swap screenings with the Kahlo exhibit in the same venue. This should not be confused with competitors and with the same name but different Van Gogh: the immersive experience, also running in another location. Vittorio Guidotti is the artistic director of the film Kahlo.

Impact Museums producer Vita Iaia, standing next to Mara Kahlo, says Frida Kahlo was a natural fit for a new experience, but with a few differences.

“The Immersive Van Gogh was more of a collection of his works. Here, what [digital artist] Massimiliano Siccardi took more of a journey through the life of Frida Kahlo. His art is represented of course, but there are also other elements that [reflect] its time,” he suggests.

“Frida has had a lot of difficulties. But she is also the most famous female artist of all time. And she represents a parcel communities. It’s not just a show for people who love art.

In the well-stocked gift shop dotted with hundreds of items bearing the images of Van Gogh, Kahlo, and their art is a special room where attendees can put their face in a cutout in a Kahlo artwork, with the artist herself watching.

Click to enlarge Donkeeboy (in painting) and Donkeemom in his tribute to Kahlo.  - PHOTO BY BOB RUGGIERO

Donkeeboy (in painting) and Donkeemom in his tribute to Kahlo.

Photo by Bob Ruggiero

It was created by Houston artist Donkeemom (aka Sylvia Roman), who, along with his son Donkeeboy (aka Alex Roman, Jr.), made a name for themselves through their collaborative work on large, colorful murals, even gaining national attention.

“I’ve been a fan of Frida for a long time, and as a woman, I respect the accomplishments she has made in her life and her art,” says the Spanish-speaking Donkeemom with her son translating into English. “I consider myself a feminist and I love women very much. And I respect Frida.

Frida Kahlo was born in 1907. As a child, she suffered from poliomyelitis and nurtured a budding interest in art that her parents encouraged. She was involved in a bus crash aged 18 which left her with lifelong painful health complications and trips to hospital and surgery. But it was when she got back into bed that she started painting on her own using a special easel that her mother had made.

A mirror placed above her bed let her stare at her own reflected image for hours, and she began to explore her own identity both in her head and on canvas. “I paint myself because I am often alone and I am the subject I know best,” she said.

Click to enlarge Frida Kahlo in 1932. - PHOTO BY GUILLERMO KAHLO, PUBLIC DOMAIN

As her career developed, she entered a sometimes tumultuous marriage (both personally and professionally) to fellow artist Diego Rivera in 1929. They would divorce a decade later but would continue an on-and-off relationship. The two would have many affairs, and Kahlo with partners of both sexes.

Kahlo’s work embraced a wide variety of styles and subjects such as Mexican folklore, nationalism and history, surrealism, magic realism, feminism, roots/plants, religion and politics (she was a member loyal to the Communist Party). And of course, plenty of self-portraits, with his widespread “unibrow” trademark.

She also taught art and was the first Mexican artist to purchase a work for display by the Louvre and found admirers and champions in America and Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. don’t make her rich, she takes commissions, sometimes reluctantly.

Her health declined in the late 1940s as she became less mobile, but Kahlo continued to paint. It was then that his native country began to truly embrace his work and had his first solo exhibition in Mexico in 1953.

No one expected her to attend the opening, but she surprised and delighted the crowd when she arrived by ambulance and greeted guests lying in a bed brought into the gallery. She died the following year, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that her work began to gain the attention and appreciation it has today.

A self-portrait, 1949 Diego and you (which also features Rivera), sold last November at a Sotheby’s auction for $34.9 million, setting a record as the highest price for a Latin American artist. The oil painting measures only 11.6″ x 8.8″.

back to Immersive Frida Kahlo exhibition on Brittmore, Mara Kahlo asks if she can tell me one more thing. It’s about his name. And a monkey man.

She says actor Johnny Weissmuller, who played Tarzan on the big screen in a series of films in the 1930s and 1940s, had a home in Acapulco, Mexico. The year 1948 saw the release of his last time in the role Tarzan and the Sirens. In the film, the cute co-billed aquatic stars could grow legs every full moon and are able to walk on land. The main mermaid was played by Linda Christian and named Mara.

“Frida saw this film, and she like Mara’s name! She used to sign this in letters to her lovers, and also on some of her works,” she says, a wide smile on her face. “That is why my name is Mara! Because my grandmother loved it too!

Immersive Frida Kahlo until April 17 at the Lighthouse Art Space, 1314 Brittmore. For more information, visit Immersive-Frida.com. $39.99 and up.

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