This screen Frida is shown to be virulently anti-Stalin and passionately pro-Trotsky throughout her life, while specifics of her ideology and dogma are left out in favour of sweeping notions of workers’ rights.
And this at a time when ideological battles over socialism versus capitalism have been reignited in British politics with the rise of Jeremy Corbyn.
Media sources have pointed out the irony of May’s apparent enthusiasm for Kahlo and have noted the artist’s affair with Trotsky, her Marxist politics and her affiliation to the Mexican Communist party.
In previous work I have noted that Kahlo has been co-opted by a range of groups and has become what her fans and admirers desire her to be: a symbol for Mexicans, Mexican Americans, Latinos in the US, feminists and LGBTQ people all over the world, who take from her what fits their identity needs.
Even so – she is not usually co-opted by representatives of conservative agendas, which is what has made the Frida bracelet story so newsworthy.
The media attention is not, in this instance, a frivolous focus on fashion at the expense of taking political women seriously.
Rather, it is a collective amused gasp of wonder at a particularly right-wing Conservative leader choosing to adorn herself with a prominent bracelet featuring images of the most famous Communist female artist.
Many Kahlo fans will be delighted that this important Mexican artist has gained more exposure from the storm generated by May’s fashion statement.
Nonetheless, it raises some interesting issues about the transformation and co-opting of radical leftist artists who achieve a certain degree of success.
Since I fell in love with you everything is transformed and is full of beauty…. You know, my sky, you rain on me and I, like the earth, receive you.
Mara” — Frida Kahlo, October 1946 This group of twenty-five letters that the Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo wrote to a Spanish refugee named Jose Bartoli between August 1946, when she had just turned thirty-nine, and November 1949, show that she knew how to write love letters that flow with poetry and passion.
The answer lies in the way in which Kahlo has undergone a form of cultural transformation and commodification, a process in which a cultural figure becomes an icon and acquires a new market-derived identity.