|Frida Kahlo's Diego on My Mind|
In October 2012, the Art Gallery of Ontario set up photo booths outside of the gallery to draw in visitors to its new exhibit Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics and Painting. You could affix a long, black strip across your eyebrows, to approximate Kahlo's famous "unibrow", take a photo, and then receive 50 per cent off admission to the exhibition on October 27th.
A woman’s hair is laden with meaning in almost all cultures … sexually, politically, culturally. A great deal of hair is indicative of sexiness, fertility, youth (vedi Bardot or, more currently, Rihanna or Lady Gaga). Big or messy hair can also be threatening (political activist Angela Davis or punk rocker Courtney Love) to mainstream culture - signifying defiance of female docility or resistance to societal norms. Yet, generally, a great deal of hair in many contexts is seen as acceptable, inviting, sexy.
But not when it is on a woman's face; a hairless face is sacrosanct, hair on a woman's face is verboten. Too much is what ... masculine, unattractive, butch? A surplus of hair (in this case, Frida’s unabashed moustache and bushy eyebrows) is atypical in Western culture and, therefore, often the subject of mockery or fun. Frida, a beautiful woman, if unconventionally so, is reduced to a series of "ugly", unfeminine physical attributes.
But ultimately, this small, light-hearted promotion at the AGO is disrespectful. Not only is it disrespectful to her as a woman, but, as importantly, disrespectful to her as an artist. When you take a major female artist who belongs to an ethnicity that seems to have a more relaxed attitude towards facial hair and make that the focus of our interest as viewers of art, it takes on a certain meaning – of derision, amusement, condescension.
Is she also being derided because she painted about "female" concerns - her inability to become pregnant, her physical ailments due to her accident and illnesses, her obsessive love for Rivera, her focus on self-portraits ... does that perhaps add to the dialogue in terms of making her less worthy of esteem?