is Frida Kahlo a figure that would interest children?
Sure she is, she is a total bad-ass of historical proportions.
Frida lived a passionate life full to the brim of colour and talent that her life was a work of art as much as well, her art. And guess what? She was also a disabled, bisexual, politically active woman of colour.
So what did the children think and why did they enjoy it so much?
Well, the preparation helped.
Firstly we stayed in Coyoacan just around the corner from her house. The old world charm and history of the the place was so tangible, you could easily imagine Frida and Diego going about their daily life as soon as we stepped out the door of our Air BnB.
I found a YouTube resource aimed at children about her life and we all watched a (heavily edited version) of Salam Hayek's 'Frida' (from 2002). This was hugely helpful as it was set in Coyoacan and filmed in her actual house- and who doesn't love seeing places they recognise on the screen? Especially if you are staying there RIGHT NOW.
After trawling the internet for resources to whip them up in a frenzy, the day came to visit the museum. It was cheaper to go mid-week and at the entrance to the museum, the helpful staff were advising us to get on our phones to book our tickets online. We got to skip the cash queue and get a discount.
The Casa Azul (The Blue House) is just as it was in the film. Frida's actual gardens were beautiful, her kitchen and rooms had not been touched since Diego Rivera passed away. Having done all our homework, it felt just like wandering around a loved ones home rather than a museum.
Frida Kahlo's relationship with suffering was remarkable. She suffered childhood polio that left her right leg weakened, then a bus crash that broke her pelvis, pierced her uterus and left her unable to have children. Endless surgery followed as well as months in bed, without even a TV or iPad to occupy her *gasps of horror* in fact it's possible that her art might not even exist if she had a telly to watch instead of drawing, but that's another debate.
Later, gangrene led to the amputation of her foot and she continued to experience chronic pain due to damage from the bus crash. Throughout all this she showed enormous grit and spirit.
Interestingly, the children found the clothing exhibit the most moving.
We all know Frida Kahlo as a style icon, but why?
Frida Kahlo wore bright, long skirts that covered her corsets and prosthetic leg. She dressed in the Tehuana style, a region in Oaxaca (South of Mexico City) that is known for being a matriarchal society. So in tailoring her dresses, Frida reclaimed her heritage, her body, her disability and made a political statement all at the same time. Her clothes were more than just function or aesthetics.
Seeing her highly decorated prosthetic leg and her corsets and casts, (especially the one she decorated with a hammer and sickle) brought home how personal her political beliefs were. Frida believed that communism would bring social and personal justice and she was hugely politically active. She even had an affair with Trotsky whilst sheltering him from the Russians in 1939.
Her art collection was like a narrative to her life. All of the issues she faced were easily visible in her work- some were even unfinished which made them feel even more poignant. Talking them through with the children was an eye-opener, as they were much more sensitive to the subjects than I thought they might be... for a while at least- they got it. They actually got it. Worldschooling win!
Moving through the house, we could imagine Frida and Diego sitting for breakfast and working in the studio which looked as though it had only just been used. You could smell the paint, hear the birds outside- you could almost feel the swish of Frida's skirts, her presence felt so real.
Lastly we saw her bed with a view of the beautiful garden.
Seeing the collection of butterflies on the ceiling of her bed made us all feel... sad, but was she envious of the butterflies or did they represent her spirit?
"Why do I need feet when I have wings to fly" was emblazoned on the wall for visitors to see, next to a sculpture of a body with a cage as a torso.
Was her body a prison? No doubt she suffered, but her strength and resilience in the face of it was a lesson for us all.
We finished our tour of the house, taking our questions and our goosebumps with us.
Was the museum suitable for children? Hell yeah, in fact if you are visiting Mexico City, I'd say it was essential for everyone.
With a bit of preparation our children totally got it and to be able to share this passion with them was pure gold.