A Broken Body, Strange Women & Chavela…
Feliz Cumpleaños Frida Kahlo!
Today is Frida Kahlo‘s 106th birthday! I cannot pinpoint the exact time when I first encountered the story of Frida, or saw one of her paintings for the first time, she seems to have always been around me in spirit. Today as I write this blog I will use her words and art through out this post. Click HERE to watch a YouTube video with footage of Frida. Enjoy!
“I am not sick. I am broken. But I am happy to be alive as long as I can paint.“
At a young age Frida was involved in a Trolly Car accident. She suffered serious injuries as a result of the accident, including a broken spinal column, a broken collarbone, broken ribs, a broken pelvis, eleven fractures in her right leg, a crushed and dislocated right foot, and a dislocated shoulder. Also, an iron handrail pierced her abdomen and her uterus, compromising her reproductive capacity.
When I first read about her injuries it struck me that I had two injuries similar to her, a broken pelvis and a dislocated shoulder. My pelvis was not broken in an accident however, it was necessary for it to be broken in three places for surgery. When I was 14 months old it was discovered that I had CHD (Congenital Hip Dysplasia) I underwent surgery at that age and wore a full body cast for many, many months. I remember none of this. However I remember clearly when I was 15 years old, just 3 days after my birthday undergoing a second surgery for the same problem. My hip was starting to dislocate again, slowly and painfully. The same orthopedic surgeon who performed my surgery as a baby performed the second surgery as well. I was young and able to recover within a few months and was playing sports the following season. Many thanks to the homeopathic treatment of Traumel. Several years later I had arthroscopic surgery on my shoulder after dislocating it 7 times. A few years ago I visited an Orthopedic surgeon about my knees which I had dislocated a few times as a child and now suffered from chronic pain. After an x-ray it was discovered that I do not have the usual cradle behind the patella that everyone else has, my cradle is flat. As a result the cartilage behind the knee cap is not properly polished smooth and causes creaks and cracks when I bend. Just last year I woke up with a frozen neck and an x-ray was taken by my chiropractor. It was the first time I had seen the bones of my upper spine, and there is no natural curve! It could have been the result of a car accident a few months before or just wear and tear over time.
It is quite natural for me to be angry at times about the “misfortune” of my broken body. Yet I try to remind myself that if Frida was able to survive her injuries, as well as Polio at a young age, and still produce stunning and heartbreaking art, so can I. She is my patron saint of my broken body. I have a lot of work to do. I visit a chiropractor weekly, I try to keep up with my leg extensions and simple strengthening exercises. Working on the Elizabethan Stage at OSF is quite the challenge with all the running up and down stairs and ramps. Every night I am done with a run of The Heart of Robin Hood I thank my saints and my body for helping me make it through unscathed. I am able to forget about my chronic pain and injuries when I am on stage, and like Frida said, I am not sick, I am broken, but I am happy to be alive as long as I can create.
* Have you ever been in an accident?
* Is there an artist in your life who inspires your work?
* What are your tips for healing and getting stronger?
“I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me, too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.“
I visited Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul for the first time in 2007. As I walked from room to room I imagined her going about her daily routines, entertaining guests, relaxing with Diego, I imagined her living. For me and my comadres who work in creation and activism she lives in our hearts and in our artistic expression and raised voices. We may or may not know why we do what we do, but the more we meet others like us we know that we are on the right path.
We are deep in rehearsals for The Tenth Muse, my second show at OSF and the world premier play by Tanya Saracho. This is an all female cast, written by a Latina and directed by a Latina, Laurie Woolery. I am in the room with some of the most amazing, interesting and strange women! Judith-Marie Bergan, Wilma Bonet, Alejandra Escalante, Vivia Font, Sofia Jean Gomez, Katie Medford, Avery Proctor, Vilma Silva and Shadee Vossoughi. And we are all here bizzare and flawed and on a journey of creation and storytelling.
As we explore a time when women were not encouraged to raise their voice, create and/or think for themselves we also discover that there are still those issues today. The link between past struggles and current ones is a strong one. Laurie used the following quote in her director’s notes for the OSF program: ” I have the right of education. I have the right to play. I have the right to sing… I have the right to speak up.” Malala Yousafzai. This young women fights for a right to education despite being shot and living in a culture that does not embrace the power of the female mind and imagination. The ten of us in the cast of this play, along with our director and playwright are fighting the same fight, using voice and text as weapons. We are conjuring the spirit of Sor Juana Ines de La Cruz in the hearts and minds of ourselves and then hope to pass it along to all the women and girls that come to see the show. We want to say “we are here and so are you and we have a right to be here, we have a right to use our voice, and we have a right to create and imagine!”
* Have you ever been silenced by anyone?
* What forms of creativity do you like?
* Where have you seen injustice towards women?
“Nothing is worth more than laughter.It is strength to laugh and to abandon oneself, to be light.”
As I sat down to write this post I put on the music of Chavela Vargas, one of the most heartbreaking and powerful voices I have ever heard. I discovered Chavela when I started working with Las Meganenas in Albuquerque, NM on the piece Rio De Lagrimas. One of Chavela’s most well known songs is La Llorona, heard HERE.
Chavela broke a lot of the “rules” that applied to women in her time, she wore pants, smoke cigars, drank a lot, swore and was a rumored womanizer. One of her rumored lovers was that of Frida Kahlo. I can only imagine the passionate and intimate moments between these two groundbreaking artists. This photo is one of my favorites of Frida and Chavela. It reminds me of those times when laughter breaks out and is unable to be contained, the joy of tears flowing from a free mind and open heart. During the production of Still Life by Harry Clark, I played Frida Kahlo and listened to Chavela often to invoke the spirit of Frida. While playing Medea in Bruja by Luis Alfaro I also listened to Chavela. She explores love, pain, tragedy, hope, her songs recount lost loves, the struggle with life, and the joy of loving another’s soul. One of my favorites El Ultimo Trago can be heard HERE.
I recently found a very good quality YouTube video of Chavela in concert, I was searching for videos of her concerts after she passed away. I cried many, many tears for her, she and my Tia Lala were the focus of my Dia De Los Muertos altar in October. If you have a moment, click HERE and enjoy an hour long concert by Chavela. There is a great introduction as well as clips of Chavela talking about life, truth and herself. I wish I could have seen her live in concert before she passed, but her music lives on!
* What musician(s) do find to be heartbreaking?
* Do you have a favorite song that helps you with your work?
* When was the last time you had a really good laugh?