FRIDA/TROTSKY (1987 - 1990)
Returning home from a photographing trip in the Yucatan in 1987, I found myself faced with a five-hour layover in Mexico City. I recalled from my years as an art student that Frida Kahlo's house was nearby. Hoping to see her paintings, I hailed a taxicab and took off for Coyoacán.
I had come to her museum-house as a tourist, but I instantly felt like Frida's guest. I began photographing as I walked towards the front door, recording the experience itself step by step as if I held a movie camera. Against the cobalt blue painted walls, the windows were like Frida's eyes staring back at me. The tree, which Frida had planted in the courtyard, appeared like her crippled spine. Surrounded by these images at the home in which Frida was born, raised, married, and died, I felt I had been plunged into her life. Many of those first photographs of the exterior and garden are on view in this exhibition.
When I returned four months later, I met Isolda Kahlo, Frida's niece, who shared memories of her "auntie” and who helped me obtain critical permission to photograph inside the museum. With lsolda as my usher, I was able to pick up where I had left off, exploring the interior of the Blue House--and aspects of Frida's life--room by room. For me, the experience of photographing was as if I were an actress playing the role of Frida and perceiving her immediate reality and environment through her eyes.
My photographs presented themselves to me as portraits of Frida. And as I learned more about her life, I realized I was looking at a part of myself as well. Living in different countries, different cultures, different time periods, Frida and I are separated; but as women and artists, we share many personal experiences.
Photographing Frida’s house taught me a new way to work, which I resumed on a separate trip to Coyoacán when I visited Leon Trotsky's house only five blocks away. Aside from being neighbors, Frida and Trotsky had been friends and, for a brief time, lovers. I saw a similarity in their lives: Frida was physically trapped by her body and Trotsky was trapped or at least confined physically from the world because of his philosophy and ideology. Prisoners, living in isolation and with constant restrictions, their paths crossed for a brief period. I was attracted to him, I suppose, because she had been. The older Russian revolutionary, a political refugee in Mexico, and the passionate younger artist couldn't have been more different, I learned.
I tried to inhabit the rooms Trotsky and his wife Natalia had lived in, to imagine the quiet anxiety of their day-to-day life in exile. Often draped with thick plastic, everything was left as if they had just been there. I saw Trotsky's desk, his books and dictaphone, Natalia's wardrobe, the rabbit hutch in the garden. Bullet holes in the bedroom wall are evidence of an assassination attempt; a desk-top calendar marks the date of Trotsky's violent murder at his house in 1940.
There are no mementos of Frida at Trotsky's house, nor signs of him at hers, but I tried to imagine each thinking of, visiting, and talking with the other. Frida's Blue House and the Trotsky series contribute to a single body of work, which I hope gives an impression of these two extraordinary figures. In their absence, the photographs evoke a conversation still whispered between their empty homes.
Debra Bloomfield, 1991