Viva la Vida – Part 5

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Viva la Vida – Part 5

An Artful Pilgrimage

Mexico City is a fantastic art town. It has historical art from all the different indigenous cultures: Aztec, Mayan, Olmec, Toltec, and more. There are the murals, the personal and political art that came out of the 20th century (Diego and Frida, and many others), the crafts from artisans around the country, and contemporary and street art are everywhere. With so much to see I covered as much ground as I could, but barely scratched the surface. Wearing out my feet, walking around 8-9 miles every day taking everything in.

A Long Awaited Dream

This was the day I had been most looking forward to for years. I was finally going to see Frida Kahlo’s house. Over twenty years ago I read her biography by Hayden Herrera, and have long been a fan of her work. The way she delves into the inner emotional experience in her art really speaks to me.

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Casa de Azul, Coyoacan, CDMX

Looking Within

An exhibit of her work was supposed to open here in SF at the deYoung Museum in April 2020, but was delayed by the pandemic. When it finally did open in the fall, there were a lot of restrictions and high demand for tickets, but I managed to go twice. Someone once said to me that they thought her work was narcissistic because she paints herself so much, but I don’t think they really understood what she was doing. To me, she was doing a deep dive into understanding who she was, her pain and trauma, what life is, her connections with people, the challenges of being female, her understanding of the world and spirituality.

Her husband, Diego Rivera, often said that Frida’s work was better than his. Apples and oranges really, but her work goes deeper emotionally than his. Maybe this is because of all the pain she experienced, both physically and emotionally. She knew about suffering. Although she had security and means beyond many of her time, she staunchly believed in the betterment of others and an evening of resources for all with her embrace of communist ideology. She wasn’t just thinking of herself there.

The Big Tourist Tour

To get to see her house, I had to book a tour, because all the other timed tickets were sold out. The group was really large, we rode on a bus. I mostly kept to myself. I got to see and do a bunch of things I likely would not have opted for. We went to see the work of an expert silversmith which was lovely. My great grandfather was a silversmith so I appreciated the artistry.

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Quetzalcoatl at Plateria Rafael 

Art and Education

There was a quick stop at the university, UNAM, which is one of the largest universities in the Latin America. The campus is covered with beautiful murals and mosaics. We only made it to the main quad. The whole campus is covered with art and there is a Contemporary Art Museum on site as well. More to explore on a future trip.

The library building tells the story of Mexico, both pre-colonial and post-colonial in gorgeous mosaics. The stadium has a three dimensional mural by Diego Rivera which was supposed to go all around it, but he died before it could be completed. It was the site of the 1968 Olympics. The campus is also where the protest movement of 1968 started before tragically ending in Tlatelolco.

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Place of the Flowers

Part of the tour was a boat ride in the canals at Xochimilco. This is one of the last (barely) surviving parts of the ancient lake system that covered the valley. Xochimilco means “The Place of the Flowers.” The canals connect together and the area is still largely agricultural making use of floating fields, chinampas. Water in the canals has been depleted over time through extraction, illegal filling, and settlements in the protected zone.

It was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in the 1980s. Flowers are still grown here but there has been a lot of environmental degradation. Axolotls are native to the area and their numbers have been plummeting due to pollution from agriculture, loss of habitat and invasive species like tilapia. They may be extinct in the wild soon.

Bumper Boats and Mariachis

We took a ride in brightly colored and decorated boats  in a canal with a mariachi band. The band was good, particularly the violin player, who also happened to be a little person. They played classic mariachi music and a song from Coco requested by people on the tour. An ever appearing cast of characters came on an off the boat or pulled up beside to sell corn on the cob, or carry on a falcon. The boats would regularly bump into each other as people came and went. It was a cacophony of colors, sounds and people, entertainment, but I wasn’t up for party time. A canal cruise that explained the ecology, history, current community and culture would’ve been more my speed.

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Finally we make it to Coyoacan and we had 30 minutes in the square before we needed to head over to Frida’s Casa de Azul. The square was full of people selling things to tourists. A little groggy after lunch, I grabbed a double espresso. Whew just the thing I needed. Then we walked over. I chatted with some of the other folks on the tour, then our turn came and we go inside.

Casa de Azul

The courtyard was full of gorgeous plants and it was near the end of the day so it was the golden hour. Some of their collection of artifacts were on little stepped pyramids in the garden.

Passing through the entry way I looked at the art and belongings of Frida’s. It felt surreal and familiar to finally be here in person. Walking from room to room I turned a corner and it seemed like I was suddenly in a tunnel and everything went dark. My eyes were drawn to this glowing light and I gazed at Frida’s final painting. It was a still-life of ripe juicy watermelons.

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The Flesh of the Fruit

It was one of those moments were you turn and your eyes are gripped on something and you can’t turn away, you want to look more and look deeper. The colors she used made it look like the fruit was glowing. In the center on a melon she wrote the words ‘Viva la Vida’. She finished it a few days before she died. It struck me hard. She must’ve been in a tremendous amount of pain at that point. She had to have one of her legs amputated after years of surgeries for complications from a near-death streetcar accident. It can’t have been easy. Here she was inviting us to remember to Live our Lives with vibrancy.

As someone who survived almost dying, took a year to recover, and experienced constant pain, Frida’s understanding of the unique opportunity we have been given to live this life is one that we should heed. It is a gift to be able to walk through the pain and suffering that life inevitably throws your way, continue on and still remember to reach down and scoop up life’s joy.

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Tasting the Sweetness

Human and environmental devastation is happening now on a scale hard to comprehend. It is painful to bear witness and be helpless to make it stop. It’s important to do what you can to bring relief and healing and it’s also essential to remember to find joy wherever it appears for you, in the company of friends and family, in creativity, in sharing love, enjoying pleasures, in nature, wherever you find it that means something to you.

Since I was with my father as he died last fall, this has been on my mind a lot. That moment in my life was so dark for many reasons and I came out of it a different person. I stopped caring about people’s judgement and criticism and started focusing on spending my time doing things that matter to me. To be blunt, I genuinely don’t give a shit about people’s disapproval or opinions. I am at rest in my inherent worth. None of it depends on accomplishments, money or how other people define success. Any need to people please is gone. It is very freeing.

Seizing the Moment

To live fully, this is why I made the trip to Mexico City when I had the chance. There’s so much we get caught up doing just to live day to day in a our hyper-materialistic capitalist society. We have to work hard for shelter and food, medical care, and to pay for all the things, but our spirits want to live, to really live. To feel the heat of the sun, to taste the sweetness, to swim freely in the water of life.

Frida’s house was beautiful and full of magic. This simple message, Viva la Vida, is what will stay with me and is what I am sharing here with all of this.

He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise
– William Blake

Written by jennalex

Artist and designer who explores the relationship between the natural world and the digital world and aims to create art and design that expands people's consciousness and creates meaningful experiences.

May 27, 2024