When Ruth Guajardo visited Frida Kahlo’s house in Mexico City earlier this year, she was able to cross off one of the top items on her bucket list. She wandered through the home’s garden where Kahlo played as a child and would eventually spend time with husband Diego Rivera. She passed Kahlo’s work area. She stood outside of the big, blue house and felt at home. That’s because in some ways, she was.
When Ruth and her sister Ana were young, their family moved all over Mexico, following their father, a pharmaceutical rep, wherever he went. The family would eventually settle down in Mexico City for a few years, down the street from Kahlo’s childhood home. But it wasn’t until she lived in Texas, Ruth says, that she began to appreciate the painter’s work.
When a college assignment challenged Ruth to find museum artwork that “inspired” her, she didn’t realize how hard it would be. Nothing could keep her attention long enough until she stumbled upon a Kahlo painting and immediately started crying. “The emotions you feel when you see her paintings are raw and unfiltered,” she says, and it was at this moment that her love for the Mexican artist began. And if you visit El Sol Studios, a store Ruth and her husband run inside Pulquerios (215 W. Poplar St.), you can see the influence Kahlo has had on Ruth’s own work — jewelry, beads and Mexican folk art.
Her sister Ana chose a different medium. Those familiar with Cha Cha Covers, an LA-based nail decal business, have seen Ana’s work first hand. With nearly 25,000 followers on Instagram, the Latina entrepreneur has taken the nail industry by storm, sharing her love of Kahlo through nails wraps along the way.
If it seems like Kahlo and her work have become increasingly more popular in recent years, you’re not wrong. With the artist’s face found on stickers, buttons, shirts, bags, murals, jewelry and just about everything else, it’s hard to avoid questioning if Kahlo’s image has become overproduced, overused or inauthentic.
According to Ruth, there are two sides to the Kahlo “trend.” On one hand, you have more and more people who are taking an interest in Kahlo, in Mexican art and Mexican culture. “It just brings to light her life and her light shines a light on the culture of Mexico,” she says.
“People get more interested in the aspects of Mexican culture and why she did what she did, or wore the dresses she wore. It brings to light what kind of person she was,” Ruth continues. “It’s good, but once it becomes too commercial, it’s a problem."
As long as people are respectful, she argues, it can’t be a bad thing.