When we first arrived in Mexico, my family lived in the same neighborhood Diego Rivera and his wife, Frida Khalo once lived in. One of my earliest childhood memories is looking out my bedroom window in Coyoacan onto a sky of fireworks that lit up the plaza next to which Frida had her tragic accident. After her bus accident, the constant suffering Frida endured became a way of life which she expressed through her self portraits. This honest unveiling of pain and injustice fascinated me as a child, and Frida and Diego’s art dripped with it!
How much does the art an artist is exposed to as a child influence their own artistic creations? Today I awoke contemplating this question, particularly as I reminisce on the paintings and collages I produced as an adolescent, which reflected some of the same tragic themes as those engaged by Diego and Frida. My photography today is quite tame in comparison! Perhaps this is because I still feel like a novice who is experimenting with this new medium. The acquisition of my camera, also arrived at a new phase in my life which included a different environment; far from the political corruption which fueled much of Rivera’s work, and saturated the beautiful city we once called our home.
I was twelve years old when my family felt forced to leave Mexico City due to death threats my father received in response to efforts he was involved in to expose government corruption. After the sudden assassination of one of my father’s colleagues, my mother had had enough, and we fled the country. My childhood self thus associates a certain political upheaval with Mexico City. There seems to be something almost intrinsic to the valley itself that has has colored it’s history with a passion for politics beginning with the Aztecs. This passion was certainly shared by Diego and Frida.
As artists are usually very sensually attuned to the world which surrounds them, I believe the environmental tapestries an artist lives in inevitably seep into their work: either by their total absence, or by their unmistakable presence. Both Diego and Frida certainly presented the ethos and history of Mexico City in their paintings! They also made faces prominent. In contrast, my photographs are faceless, and leave the observer with little -if any- hints to my upbringing in Mexico. For now, this seems to be what I am most moved to create. In the future, however, I have a dream that I return to the amazing city I grew up in, and capture myself in it with my camera. I see myself seeking out the very same murals I stood before as a little girl, hoping they will affect me the same way; injecting me with awe and inspiration. Yes, Diego’s work used to overwhelm me to the point that I utterly lost myself to everything and everyone else around me! My surroundings would disappear and all that would remain would be Diego’s mural and me.
From this childhood experience I seem to define good art as that which creates an overwhelming effect in another person. Perhaps because when one emerges from losing oneself in a good work of art, one tends to feel more found then they were before; more connected to the core of their being. At least this is what I felt when I was a little girl after ingesting any of Diego Rivera’s murals. And that feeling never failed to impregnate me with an irresistible urge to create more art! What could be more satisfying to my artistic self, (I asked myself as a child), than to make another person feel what Diego’s art is making me feel now, through one of my own creations? Sometimes, I think this same question lives on as a subconscious influence of the past upon my photo sessions: The subtle residue of a child standing in excitement before the work of a master, secretly seeking to extend that excitement through art of her own. The journey before me is long indeed! But one I look forward to, camera in hand.