The Brooklyn Museum’s Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving exhibit ends on May 12th, and if you’re a reliable procrastinator, be warned that closing weekend is already sold out. Frida Kahlo, of course, has been memorialized in modern Instagram culture for her flower crowns, thick brows, and colorful tunics (huipils)—and that’s okay! Frida Kahlo would have wanted you to notice the significance and impact of her appearance, because much of her art, such as her many self-portraits, were about self-presentation. She experimented with notions of masculinity, had relationships with both men and women, and adopted indigenous clothing as her style, as part of the Mexicanidad movement which resisted the colonialist mindset that “folk” culture was inferior, while she was living in San Francisco. A lesser known fact about Frida is that she was disabled and suffered from physical pain and medical problems her entire life, and she wore medical plaster corsets because her spine was too weak. She painted them with tigers, monkeys, birds, streetcars, hammers and sickles.
And she loved her dogs, the hairless Xoloitzcuintli, aka the Xolo dog, aka the Colima dog. The name Xoloitzcuintli is derived from two words in the Aztec language: Xolotl, the god of death, and itzcuintli, dog. These dogs are affectionate, playful, and warm to the touch, and of course, don’t shed or need grooming. My friend Carmen Hermo, an associate curator at the Brooklyn Museum, has seen these charming hairless dogs in real life at the renowned Museo Dolores Olmedo in Mexico City. Because being a beauty editor has never left my system, my first question to her was, “Do they wear sunscreen?” And in fact, they do! The caretaker at the museum sponges sunscreen on these precious no-fur babies every day, and that’s how I discovered my dream job.
Frida loved her dogs so much that she painted her favorite one, named Señor Xolotl (!), in several of her paintings, like The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Diego, Me, and Senor Xolotl (1949), a self-portrait of love rooted in the pre-colonial Mexican earth. If you can see it in real life at the Brooklyn Museum soon, it’s worth the long lines and wait. Otherwise, take a look:
Amidst admiring her self portraits and fashion, I lurked around the exhibit searching for actual photographs of Frida and her dog—I knew they had to exist, because dog lovers don’t turn down the chance to be photographed with their dogs! And in the second room, there were a series of four photographs of Frida and her Xolos. Here’s two of them by Mexican photographer Lola Álvarez Bravo (1944).
The photograph I loved the most at the exhibition was shot by Héctor García (1953). Who has not held their dog in this way?
The particular exhibit was a huge collaborative effort based on prior exhibitions at the Frida Kahlo Museum and the V&A London, organized by Brooklyn Museum curators Catherine Morris and Lisa Small, in collaboration with Banco de México Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, and The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of 20th Century Mexican Art and The Vergel Foundation.
Many thanks to the curators behind this exhibition for giving attention to Frida and her Xolos—after all, if you want to see another side of a person, get to know their dogs.