The Bowes Museum > Exhibitions > 2012 > Complicidades: Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera

Complicidades: Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera

The Bowes Museum was the only UK venue to be included in the European tour of this photographic exhibition featuring prominent 20th century Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera.

The exhibition, went on show at the Barnard Castle treasure house as part of the Vamos! Festival 2012, six weeks of vibrant and varied celebration of Spanish and Portuguese speaking cultures.

The 36 images took the viewer through the most important political events occurring in Mexico in the first half of the 20th Century, chronicled against the unconventional and tempestuous relationship existing between Kahlo and Rivera during their 25 year relationship.

The title translates as Complicity and without doubt the Mexican Revolution was the first major ideological connection shared by this extraordinary couple. Kahlo, who was officially born in 1907, would later give her birth year as 1910 as a way of identifying herself with the start of the revolutionary movement. But although early revolutionary events did not radically intrude on the couple’s personal lives, they would nevertheless exert a powerful influence on them in later years.

The images focused on the couple living and working during this period: their political activism, their relationship with the exiled Trotsky – who became Kahlo’s lover and with whose assassination Rivera was deemed complicit, their family life and their work as artists.

The photographs beared witness to Kahlo and Rivera’s lives throughout their various causes, journaling their political adventures and fights for workers’ rights, and their defence of national values and Mexican culture in a country split by the most diverse factions.

They highlighted how the couple’s shared experiences ran parallel with the country’s political upheaval and how their lives became melded together at key political moments during the transformation of their country.

The year 1929 is a crucial one in the complicity of the two artists, a year in which Rivera is an active militant in the Communist Party, fighting the class war and defending the underdog. In turn, Kahlo had joined the Communist Youth Movement following her recovery from an horrific road accident. This communion of political ideals was to unite them in their struggles.

Although they shared the same ideals theirs was a volatile relationship. Both had numerous affairs, leading to their eventual divorce. Yet, following Trotsky’s death, their subsequent remarriage after only a year apart would seem to confirm that although they couldn’t live with each other they couldn’t live without each other.

In later life their complicities took on a new meaning, with both becoming companions of a single destiny: painting. And while their work followed different paths, they were united in pre-Columbian art and in their liking for collecting.

Kahlo’s death in 1954, after a lengthy period of failing health, came only 11 days after her final public appearance at a protest march against US intervention in Guatemala. From that moment on Rivera was never the same again. In 1955, suffering from cancer, he travelled to Russia for pioneering treatment, but was to succumb to the disease in 1957, passing away in his studio at the age of 81.

Yet the Kahlo legend lives on, with artist Tracey Emin and the late singer Amy Winehouse featuring among her many admirers.