Events

The Art and Friendship of Frida Kahlo and Tina Modotti in a Laura Mulvey Documentary

In 1984, feminist filmmaker Laura Mulvey made an essayistic movie about these two artists who lived and worked in post-revolutionary Mexico.

From Laura Mulvey’s Frida Kahlo and Tina Modotti (1984), directed by Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen

In my experience, it’s hard to come across an analysis of Frida Kahlo that doesn’t obsessively fixate on her biography. But a 1984 movie by the filmmaker and theorist Laura Mulvey intrigues me for its specific angle: Kahlo’s relationship with the political photographer Tina Modotti. You might have caught a very different glimpse of this in the Hollywood movie Frida, but Mulvey’s Frida Kahlo and Tina Modotti is not only more essayistic and thoughtful in tone, but offers actual footage and photographs of the two artists in Mexico City. Like all of Mulvey’s films, this one is staunchly feminist and sets out to show how both artists “provoked and defied neat categorization” about what it meant to be a woman and an artist then.

Screening this Thursday at the Seward Park branch of the New York Public Library in 16mm, the movie (co-directed by Peter Wollen) is also insightful of post-revolutionary Mexico, a both violent and culturally vibrant time. It compares Kahlo’s and Modotti’s respective responses: the former painting in her blue house in Coyoacan and the latter traveling the world to return to Mexico City and document social change with her camera.

Both women were also romantically involved with Diego Rivera, and both appear in his 1929 mural at the Ministry of Education in Mexico City. But as the author of “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” — among the first essays to apply a feminist psychoanalytic reading to movies and to critique Hollywood’s subjugation of women — Mulvey makes sure to not make Rivera a focus.

When: Thursday, May 17, 6:30–8pm
Where: Seward Park Library, Community Room (192 East Broadway, Lower East Side, Manhattan)

More info at the New York Public Library. 

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