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Photographic exhibit at Glenbow offers a rare, intimate look at artist Frida Kahlo

After visiting the Frida Kahlo: Her Photos exhibit at Glenbow, I found myself pulling out my old high school scrapbook to see what I’ve held on to for all these years. In them I found embarrassing notes from best pals, old concert tickets, and, of course, lots and lots of photos. I wondered what sort of picture they’d paint of the person I’d been if they were found 50 years from now — not just from what I chose to capture, but also from what I chose to keep.

Frida Kahlo: Her Photos is a lot like a long lost scrapbook compiled by the famous Mexican artist. Much like my high school scrapbook, not all the photographs are taken by the woman herself, nor her artist husband Diego Rivera. In fact, most are not. Not all photos include the artists either, but are rather a collection of those that Frida compiled throughout her life that were then locked away in Casa Azul (Frida’s longtime residence) from the time of her death in 1954 until their public release over 50 years later in 2007.

So what are all these photos of, you ask? Well, they’re certainly not of the photo-booth variety popular in my old scrapbook. They’re anything from shots of army generals, Mexican presidents, and communist revolutionaries, to Indigenous youth and Mayan ruins. A large portion of the exhibit is also devoted to Frida’s family, mainly her parents Guillermo Kahlo and Matilde Calderon (who were both gorgeous, by the way – apparently the uni-brow was a recessive gene), and her early childhood. It’s quite incredible to see that even as a young girl, Frida Kahlo was intense – her penetrating gaze grabs you from within each photo and will not let go. There’s also a section devoted to the time she spent recovering in hospital after the famous trolley car accident that left her with many injuries including a broken spinal column, broken collarbone, rib and pelvis, and an iron handrail piercing her abdomen and uterus, all when she was only 18 years old. One of my favourite photos in the collection is of husband Rivera in his studio, adorned with a girlish lipstick smooch from Frida herself. Now there’s finally something her scrapbook and mine have in common!

This show is definitely worth a visit; it tells the story of who Frida was almost as though she’d curated it herself. Calgary is the exhibit’s first Canadian stop as Glenbow continues to knock it out of the park with fine art exhibits after incredible shows over the past year, such as Lawren Harris and His American Contemporaries and Kent Monkman’s Shame and Prejudice: a Story of Resilience. Glenbow has free admission on the first Thursday evening of every month, so everyone can take advantage of this fantastic Mexican import.

(Photo credit: Diego Rivera in his study at San Ángel, Anonymous, ca. 1940 ©Frida Kahlo Museum.)

Frida Kahlo: Her Photos runs at Glenbow until May 21. Details at