An Ode to Frida

Frida Kahlo: Self Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky, 1937 ABSTRACT: Joseph Stalin expelled the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky from the U.S.S.R. in 1929. In January 1937, Trotsky and his wife received asylum in Mexico. They lived with Kahlo and her husband, artist Diego Rivera, for two years before Trotsky was assassinated by a Stalinist agent. In this painting, Kahlo candidly acknowledged her political allegiance to the Mexican Revolution and Marxism by holding a dedication to Trotsky.

Frida Kahlo: Self Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky, 1937

ABSTRACT: Joseph Stalin expelled the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky from the U.S.S.R. in 1929. In January 1937, Trotsky and his wife received asylum in Mexico. They lived with Kahlo and her husband, artist Diego Rivera, for two years before Trotsky was assassinated by a Stalinist agent. In this painting, Kahlo candidly acknowledged her political allegiance to the Mexican Revolution and Marxism by holding a dedication to Trotsky.

Frida Kahlo.

She is our eternal muse. Our forever role model. Our "What Would Frida Do?" go-to solution-finder. She symbolizes everything to us - power and strength in femininity; the courage to push boundaries with art; and still having life and spirit even when you feel trapped and stuck. She displayed so much of this in her life that it continues to inspire us, and so many people, years and years after her death.

I recently paid a visit down to the National Museum of Women in the Arts and found a portrait of hers there hidden within the walls.

It was my first time seeing one of her works in person and it was truly inspiring. It was evidence that the woman we idealize lived / breathed / painted. It was a connection to a whole different world.

Her image of herself captivated me - the boldness behind the strokes, the rebelliousness and the touch of florals that always reads like the gut puncher when she's blatantly defying the establishment. I'm not going to support your politics, and I'm going to do it with FLOWERS IN MY HAIR. Proudly, not covertly. She chose to be unapologetically herself. Why can't we all be like that?

Rania Matar, Reem, Doha, Lebanon, from the series "A Girl and Her Room," 2010

Rania Matar, Reem, Doha, Lebanon, from the series "A Girl and Her Room," 2010

The trip to NMWA was eye-opening for me. It got me thinking about what it means to be a woman today; what it means to be a woman artist; and especially, what it means to me to be a minority woman in America. At the time, the museum was still showing the She Who Tells A Story exhibit featuring woman photographers from Iran and the Arab world. The images were powerful, and particularly emboldening for me, whose roots are partially there. This place and culture is often perceived and written off as backwards, as misogynistic, as hateful. But this collection showed love and strength in the images; diversity, emotion and earnestness in this culture. A much better representation than the 24-hour news cycle perpetuates. It was a beautiful exhibit to see especially this Summer, which for me was a politically difficult one to get through.

Boushra Almutawakel: Untitled, from the series "The Hijab," 2001 ABSTRACT: After the events of September 11, 2001, Almatawakel felt that Arabs and Muslims were, more than ever, either "demonized or romanticized" by the West. She observes that Middle Eastern women, frequently veiled, were "portrayed artistically (and/or in the media) as exotic, beautiful, mysterious, or helpless, oppressed, and ugly." This image of a young woman veiling her self with the American flag is the first photograph in Almutawakel's "The Hijab" series, which explores the complexities of the veil. The image questions the charged symbolism of the headscarf- particularly in Western media - as well as the implications of wearing one's national identity on one's head.

Boushra Almutawakel: Untitled, from the series "The Hijab," 2001

ABSTRACT: After the events of September 11, 2001, Almatawakel felt that Arabs and Muslims were, more than ever, either "demonized or romanticized" by the West. She observes that Middle Eastern women, frequently veiled, were "portrayed artistically (and/or in the media) as exotic, beautiful, mysterious, or helpless, oppressed, and ugly."

This image of a young woman veiling her self with the American flag is the first photograph in Almutawakel's "The Hijab" series, which explores the complexities of the veil. The image questions the charged symbolism of the headscarf- particularly in Western media - as well as the implications of wearing one's national identity on one's head.

Being a brown-skinned woman is not an easy card to be dealt in life. I know people sometimes don't take me as seriously as they would someone else; I know sometimes people make really odd assumptions about me / my work / my backstory based on what I look like; I know people pass right over me based on how I look; and I know people use a little more assumed compliance in their tone when asking me for favors. But I could never be happier with who I am.

The hardships we push through are what empower us the most. The problems we overcome are our greatest strengths. I am unapologetically proud of who I am, where I come from and how I live my life. I haven't always had that strength, but having it now has transformed my life. 

This was the inspiration for a collaboration candle with NMWA- the first of it's kind in the NMWA Makers series. From these images came a sense of power, of strength, of femininity, of familiarity. I was looking for a scent and a name that embodied these principles - one word that could sum it all up, and the only one that felt right was FRIDA.

Shop this exclusive candle, scented with amber, geranium and lavender at the National Museum of Women in the Arts' Museum Shop and here on their website. NMWA also paid a visit to my studio recently! We talked art / process / business / DC. Read on, read on.