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México at The Grand Palais

México at The Grand Palais

When I was around six years old I was visiting a museum with my family and saw something that stopped me in my tracks, and changed me and my life forever. I came across Frida Kahlo's famous painting, Las Dos Fridas (The Two Fridas), and suddenly became paralyzed and just stood there staring. Having been a particularly anxious child, when my mother witnessed this reaction she worried. She approached me and asked "Are you scared?”. All I could reply was "Its beautiful”.

Las Dos Fridas   | Frida Kahlo (1939)

Las Dos Fridas | Frida Kahlo (1939)

I continued standing there, staring, for what seemed like forever. I was completely overpowered by this work, by its beauty and its essence. While I stood there the world around me disappeared and nothing existed, no time or space, just me and this painting. I felt comforted and connected, I felt nothing and I felt everything. This was the first time I experienced the true power art can have in all of its intensity.

That day gave birth to my insatiable passion for art, and of course for Frida Kahlo. I have researched her life and work to a point of obsession, and take particular pride in coming from Coyoacan, the same neighborhood as her in Mexico City. I always jump at the opportunity to view her work, and particularly Las Dos Fridas in person. So, when I received an invitation to the inauguration of the Mexique (1900-1950) exhibition at The Grand Palais in Paris, for which Las Dos Fridas was obviously a main attraction, I simply could not pass up the opportunity to go and visit her.

I arrived at the Grand Palais excited to see my old favorite. As I was rushing through the exhibition trying to find her, I was suddenly stopped in my tracks again, just like that day so many years ago, but this time it was by another painting, one I had never before had the pleasure of meeting: La Femme et le Pantin (The Woman and the Puppet) by Ángel Zárraga.

La Femme et le Pantin   | Ángel Zárraga (1909)

La Femme et le Pantin | Ángel Zárraga (1909)

I am not sure why this painting spoke to me so loudly. Perhaps it is because I am currently working on a photo series involving a Venetian harlequin mask, or because I am generally attracted to the dark and vulnerable. Whatever the reason, I knew I had to do some research into this masterpiece and it’s master. The exhibition catalogue suggested that it was inspired by Dia de los Muertos, the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration, but I didn’t see that, so I looked a little deeper. I found that there are various theories regarding the meaning and subject matter behind Zárraga’s painting, but the one that most resonates with me is the following: 

Eleven years before La Femme et le Pantin was painted, a novel by the same title was written by French poet and writer, Pierre Louÿs. It tells a story of an obsessive and masochistic love, and reveals that the existence of a femme fatale requires the complicity of a male puppet. Although Zárraga was originally Mexican he lived in Europe, particularly in France, for most of his professional life, and is more than likely to have come across Louÿs’ work and derived inspiration from it. The same novel has also been the inspiration for various cinematic works including: Josef von Sternberg’s 1935 The Devil is a Woman, starring Marlene Dietrich; Julien Duvivier’s 1959 La Femme et le Pantin, starring Brigitte Bardot; and the great Luis Buñuel’s final film, 1977 Cet Obscur Objet du Désir (That Obscure Object of Desire).

Being a woman who has more often than not played the role of the puppet in her love life, I always enjoy a good femme fatale story that I can fantasize about, and through which I can live vicariously. So I was overjoyed to make a new friend in Zárraga’s La Femme et le Pantin. It is a friendship I hope will be long lasting and inspiring.

The must-see Mexique (1900-1950) exhibition will be held at The Grand Palais in Paris until January-23-2017.

For tickets & information visit: http://www.grandpalais.fr/en/event/mexique-1900-1950

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