Category Archives: Art History Writing Samples

Coming Soon! Exclusive Sitdown with Photographer Wendy Random Chavez.

Los Angeles is such a beautiful canvas in which you can make any dream come true, any ambition, it is so diverse and rich in cultures that so many realities and stories are untold underneath the historical Downtown skyline but we are so lucky to have photographers who are willing to walk the streets and shoot the nostalgic reality of our cities. To bring to the comfort of our desktops, books and newsstands the world we live in. Therefore, I  am so excited for the exclusive sit down I have been working on for months with this talented and humble friend. She is a young Los Angeles Based Lens Queen that is on the rise; Ms. Wendy Random Chavez who is born and raised in the SGV, El Monte California.

Her work can be described as a poetic encounter with the true essence of the streets and genuine interest in the people she shoots. There is a story waiting to be told in every shot, in every event she’s been present at and I am looking forward on sharing  all those stories with you  soon.  We will be exploring her life, her works and projects she has been involved in as well as briefing in further detail some of her iconic pictures with legendary and extraordinary people.

This is going to be a show down so stay tuned as we go down the journey of a little girl who loved to take photos with a 35mm disposable cameras to a young woman shooting professionally nationwide as well as Mexico and other countries.

Here is a little sneak peek of some of Wendy Random Chavez ‘s works!

Much Love & Respect

Monica Smiles Tobon

wendy random

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Frida Kahlo: Mexican Modernist

“Frida Kahlo: A Mexican Modernist, Dreaming beyond the paintbrush”

I paint my own reality. The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration-Frida Kahlo”.

 One of my most favorite artists as well as the one of the branches of the Modern Art movement will have the opportunity to present itself together beyond the dreams of humanity and beyond the paintbrush of this amazing artist. The Surrealism movement is fascinating because it attempts to figure out what dreams are and express the inner mind’s perspective of life without the frame that one has when awake, without the limitations of this “frame” Surrealists express this and Frida Kahlo is one of those artists that can inspire and enlighten anyone’s heart with beauty and sadness all at once. It is always a privilege to write about her and rediscover new things about her as my perspective sees her thru a different lens that exposes her talent and creativity; thru another light every time.

My approach to both of these topics; the Surrealism and as well as depicting the process of expression and interpretation of Frida Kahlo will be broken down in different categories to analyze and understand each category in detail without loosing the passion and creativity from both aspects. The thesis statement for this research will be fulfill by the end of this research by allowing the viewer to understand why Surrealism was important to the evolvement of the Modern Art movement, this era was concerned on the outer mind experience and this was enhanced by the use of drugs, sexuality and other forms of pleasure. This transformation is psychological and extremely physical as well. There had to be a sort of pain to discover and explore their inner minds and spirits and the question is why? What was taking place during this time that made them want to explore beyond the paintbrush, beyond the films and beyond their duty of being part of a society. And Frida Kahlo fits perfectly in this frame of transformation as well, how she was exposed to the world and the experiences that she had to endure also took her to want to discover beyond this reality. She expressed in many times and forms that she painted what she felt. She painted whatever went thru her mind as well as mentioning that she painted herself because she was often alone and that is all that she saw. Therefore, she had to endure in many stages the reality of her pain and life and wanting to understand what was going on beyond the surface, beyond the paintbrush and beyond the pain.

Both Frida and Surrealism’s intent is successful because it teaches the viewer about what they were trying to express as well as giving one the notion and initiative of self discovery. It leaves the viewer with a bitter taste of reality, of how disturbing life can be within their surroundings but as the painting is done or after the film or performance is over; it inserts a relief, an optimistic hope and thought that one still has the ability to dream and explore while resting from the harsh or tiring awakening reality. That there are no limitations, oppression, exploitation, abuse or physical pain in their dreams; there are no limitations, anything is possible in the Surreal World.

To begin this surreal journey, one must begin with the movement that allow it to evolve and it is the Modern movement that led many to go beyond the traditional standards of what art should be represented as. Now, one must present her in the light of both modern movements, not only the Western Modernism was taking effect during those times but there was a great impact for the Mexican Modernism as well.

To begin with, the main reasons as to why people were beginning to transition from traditional painting norms and regulations, was because of the new transformation of their cities. The new urban industrialization and evolvement of new technologies as well as a separation between classes of people such as the rich and the poor created a tension and disconnection between its people. All of these elements as well as the burst of the depression all became the motive for these new modernist artists to express themselves they way they did.

For Western Modernist; there was a desperate need to find an identity, to make itself a new beginning, their interest began to change into what art and beauty was therefore they turned into the interest of nature, the natural lights and shades and colors that it brings into the canvas. It was no longer needed to use a line to define a shape or color but to feel the tones of color, to feel a glazed, foggy grays and purples or feel the sun rays feel up an entire train station with its lights along with the steam coming out of those trains, making it a majestic experience, it did not matter if it did not depict the subject matter in its ideal perception, but the atmosphere is what matter to the artists, the realism, the truth to depict how life really is in an everyday life. As opposed as to the idealistic approach to life and beauty presented before. I brought in an overview of the Modernism roots to set the foundation of the research on Frida and especially it is important to provide the reaction to modernism in Mexico itself during this times.

According to Brettell, the widespread movement had a profound, and prolonged effect on the world of art. “Its global reach was insured by the chaos that resulted from the global depression and increasing warmongering of the 1930s.”(Brettell, pg.47) And some of the countries that were strongly influenced by the Western Modernist theory were also being practice in Mexico.

Therefore one must ask, what were the causes in Mexico to also take into theory the modernist movement? And who were the artists that lead the revolution of these new styles? And who were the artists that kept on evolving and growing into other styles as well. There was not only a presence of Mexican Modernism in Mexico itself, but its presence was also observed in Los Angeles California, the amazing works by Mexican muralists such as Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco were just a few of the leading Mexican Modernists in the United States at the time. At the time of beginning of the Mexican Modernism along the same time the Western Modernism movement was on the rise was around the mid 1800’s. But although this movement was becoming global as referred by Brettell, Mexico kept their own belief to find its own identity thru their ancestry arts and history.  One of the forerunners for the modernists were Dr. Atl who is at times referred to as the St. John the Baptist of Mexican art.

“Dr. Atl knew that the practice of the arts of Mexico in his times were counterfeit, and he was early inspired to believe that production of the genuine article depended not upon fresh importations of arts and artists from Europe, but on the deferred rediscovery of the contemporary native scene.”(Helm, page 2)

I believe that the burst of events during the Mexican Revolution and the fall of the dictator Porfirio Diaz, the Mexican people had to find itself, a new fresh identity that will be empowering to them and it was found thru the revolutionary scenes and native rediscovery, not only was the Mexican Revolution going to take its place in history but there was also the birth of an artistic revolution, one of the main causes of this outburst was due to the resistance of the Porfirian legacy, his ideology of the culture he wanted for Mexico to undertake was the practices of Europe and the Unites States, they considered indigenous people to be obstacles of this new adoption of culture and in 1920, artists and painters resisted against the Porfirian legacy and it became known as the period of the Mexican Renaissance.

“Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Jose Clemente Orozco and Frida Kahlo painted while the first social revolution in the Americas, the Mexican Revolution was unfolding. They engaged with the Revolution’s radical goals-land reforms for peasants, labour conquests for workers, the emancipation of indigenous people, and the struggle for greater independence from the United States.” (White, page 12).  Understanding this is essential to the research because it allows one to view the direction in which this new art revolution was leading to. After the foundation and remarkable growth of the Mexican Muralist Movement, the next evolution came into action with the birth of the Mexicanismo (Mexicanism). The minister of Public Education, Jose Vascolcelos was what made the renaissance possible for Mexico.  According to White, he called all intellectuals to sign a pact of alliance with the revolution. “Cultural nationalism was to be harnessed to the task of making better citizens. (White, page 18). This is where he commissioned Rivera and Siqueiros to paint the walls  of important buildings and one of them was the National Preparatory School in Mexico City in 1921. It was an important movement in which the Mexican artists were emerging into their surroundings such comparison to the growth of the Realism objective in the Western art world. Within the Mexicanismo various artists embraces this perspective and among them as Helm stated that “of the two most distinguished women painters in Mexico, Maria Izquierdo and Frida Kahlo, the former is the more deliberated and objectively devoted to mexicanismo Frida Kahlo was a city girl and Marian Izquierdo grew up in the provinces”. (Helm, page 143).

Finally, to introduce Frida Kahlo’s presence is the midst of all these movements taking place from the break of the Mexican Revolution to the outbreak of new movements emerging not only in Europe or the United States but also having an impact in her life as well. Mexico during the 1920’s was a world filled with philosophy, intellect and filled with an explosion of art and poetry and all of these strong energies were in part going to be a strong influence and passion on Frida as well.

Frida Kahlo’s life has a strong impact as to how her future was going to be from her early childhood. She was born in July 6, 1907 as Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderon, she was the third daughter of Guillermo and Matilde Kahlo in Coyoacan, Mexico, her and her sister Christina were mainly raised by their older sisters because their mother Matilde was often sick. It appears that from an early age she was already experiencing the effects of pain and illnesses from her mother.

In 1910, when the Mexican Revolution broke out, there were many events in which created the uprising of guerillas armies and it is noted in history that some of these guerilleros would be fed and healed in her house. It is written in her diary in which she remembers some of the events that took place during that time.

“I remember that I was 4 years old and when the tragic 10 days took place. I witness with my own eyes Zapata’s peasants’ battle against the Carrancistas. My situation was really clear. My mother opened the windows on Allende Street. She gave access to the Zapatistas, seeing to it that the wounded and hungry jumped from the windows of my house into my living room, She cured them and gave them thick tortillas, the only food that could be obtained at the time in Coyoacan in those days.” (Frida Kahlo).

Frida Kahlo changed her year of birth to the same year as of the Revolution because she wanted to be born when this event happened as well. She wanted to be a part of this birth in her country. . She lived most of her life in the Blue house in Coyoacan; house that belonged to her parents but soon had become her own destiny in which she would spend the rest of her life until her very last days. As she grew older, she suffered many illnesses; at the age of 6 she suffered from polio, which caused for one of her legs to appear thinner than the other leg.

It was typical for young ladies like Frida Kahlo to often get taught on how to paint or use photography or learn any skills from their family members, I this case her father was the artist of the family and taught her many valuable things that she would later use in her career. But she was not the only woman that had been taught by her father, Artemisia Gentileschi, Marietta Robusti, (Tintoretto’s daughter) and Angelica Kaufman.   But as she went into her teenage years, a drastic accident, which involved a trolley car that plowed into ta flimsy wooden bus and it transformed Frida’s life. (Helm, page 47)  this horrific accident occurred in September 17, 1925 right after the anniversary celebration for the Mexican Independence from Spain.  Although after this tragedy, painting for Frida was the main remedy of her battle for life. As it is stated my Helm, “it was also very much a part of self-creation: in her art, as in her life, a theatrical self-representation was a means to control her world.” (Helm, page 75) She turned her paint into canvas self portraits and it was almost as theatrical as stated by Helm, it was a form of dramatization of her pain that became the central point of her image, specially portrayed in her art. But as the time went by and as she was able to do things on her own she still kept paining but did not return to her studies. “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.”  She also stated, “I was born a bitch. I was born a painter” (Frida Kahlo).

She did go meet Diego Rivera for guidance as to making profit from her paintings to help her family’s income and he assured he would go to her home in Coyoacan if she kept painting and left behind her best works. After he visited her at the Blue House, they automatically became comrades and influenced each other and gave each other pain and love and unconditional support from there on.  Although, they were both their own individuals in regards to their art world, the love was unconditional from the beginning all the way until their very last days. It was an agonizing and sorrowful relationship, both Diego and Frida’s and most of the paint was reflected in her works of art. One of the images that best describes the agony and pain of her love life is found in “Las Dos Fridas” The Two Fridas, 1939, Oil on canvas, 67″ x 67″, Collection of the Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City. Which are two full length self portraits in it, and according to Frida, one of the them is the Frida that Diego had loved in it she hold a miniature portrait of Diego, as her bloodline of veins moves over to the other Frida, side in which the other Frida holds a pair of scissors and her heart is exposed to show it being damaged and broken by the pain she is enduring with the divorce with Diego. This is one of the works that has many elements of the Surrealist style and although she claimed to not being aware of the movement that began in Europe, it was strongly suggested to her that she was part of that style as well.

Which bring to the next topic of one of my favorite movements; the Surrealism movement style; which originates in Paris, France but took over the styles in Madrid Spain because they were bored with Cubism. There were many sectors in which the surrealism kept on reshaping itself, from German Surrealism, French and Spanish Surrealism and it also influenced and created the Mexican Surrealism as well; the interest rise more on the pathological psychology and poetry as well as freedom of self discovery and expression derived from illusions, thoughts and dreams.  Some of the artists from Mexico that was of the first to begin this style were Moreno Villa, Carlos Orozco Romero, and Guillermo Meza, but the first connection of Mexican and European Surrealism was made by Moreno Villa mainly because he had graduated from 3 universities in Europe, therefore he had to had come back home with some influences. Frida on the other hand excluded herself from the Mexican Surrealist School of painting. She always wanted to claim herself and independently exponent of the school. (Helm page 166)

“Really I do not know whether my paintings are surrealist or not, but I do know that they are the frankest expression of myself,” Frida once wrote. “Since my subjects have always been my sensations, my states of mind and the profound reactions that life has been producing in me, I have frequently objectified all this in figures of myself, which were the most sincere and real thing that I could do in order to express what I felt inside and outside of myself.”  (Frida Kahlo)

But there is fact many attributes of her poetic and sadistic style of painting that are similar to those of the Surrealist painters at the time, as noted on the works of Brettell, Surrealism took pale in 1924 where Andre Brento (1896-1966) issued the first Surrealist Manifesto, and it was not for the visual artists but mainly for writers. “He called a poetic unconscious, of the mental world outside the control of reason and social organization”. (Brettell page 44).

The Surrealism lead to the unconscious, h, dreams, nightmares and drugs elements that were all part of a unconscious need for recovery from the everyday life of pain, sorrow and mishaps and this directly implies the life and works of Frida Kahlo because she used her paintings as form of releasing the inner thoughts of her unconscious to provide a sort of hope and self identity through her paintings and this was not done for others, but for her own personal healing and growth. She was strongly influenced by the social freedom that Trotsky and Rivera portrayed in their own beliefs.

This is one of the strong elements that did eventually tied Frida Kahlo with the Surrealism Movement.  Her agonizing pain portrayed the unconscious, not only was her art work a cry for help or to be heard of her pain that was not only physical but also emotional in regards to Diego’s love. Her love letters, her diaries, her paintings all reflected her need for life, her passion for all things around her and her endless love to paint to express her self.

In conclusion, the Surrealism movement is fascinating because it attempts to figure out what dreams are and express the inner mind’s perspective of life without the frame that one has when awake, without the limitations of this “frame” Surrealists express this and Frida Kahlo is one of those artists that can inspire and enlighten anyone’s heart with beauty and sadness all at once. It is always a privilege to write about her and rediscover new things about her as my perspective sees her thru a different lens that exposes her talent and creativity; thru another light every time.

“I leave you my portrait so that you will have my presence all the days and nights that I am away from you.”- Frida Kahlo.

Bibliography:

  1. Brettell, R. Richard,” Modern Art 1851–1929, Capitalism and Representation”

Oxford University Press, New York. 1999.

  1. Hayden, Herresa, “Frida, A biography of Frida Kahlo”  Perennial Library, Harper & Row, Publishers. New York. 1983.
  2. Helm, MacKinley. “Modern Mexican Painters”. Books for Libraries Press, Freeport, New York. Harper & Row Publishers, Incorporated. 1941.
  3. Kahlo, Frida,” Quotations of the Authors” http://www.quotationspage.com/quotes/Frida_Kahlo/1994-2010.
  4. Kettenmann, Andrea, :Frida Kahlo 1907-1954, Pain And Passion” Taschen. 2002.
  5. Tibol, Raquel. “Frida by Frida” Selection of letters and texts forwarded and notes. Published by Editorial RM, S.A. de C.V., Mexico. 2003.
  6. White, Anthony, “Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Mexican Modernists” The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection. National Gallery of Australia. 2001.


Mami Wata & Sonji Mariposa “An eternal balance”

Ancient Africa had many water spirits before colonization; among the beliefs and traditions honoring Mami Wata; the African water spirit also known as the African mermaid she has been depicted in many art forms and this research will focus on paintings. To embrace these old traditions with contemporary art work I will compare Mami Wata’s culture with Sonji a Los Angeles based artist; an amazing individual who as well as Mami Wata’s followers has been inspired by Mami Wata’s beauty and spiritual strength.

To give a brief introduction of Mami Wata one must first understand that this is new contemporary concept of art work as well as religious. Societies have created their own belief system therefore Mami Wata is very well known in the West African region, it has become an icon and it is amazing to know that within the religious followers and devotees of Mami Wata; West Africans have created a material culture based on exotic objects and photographs. But she was not always popular in Africa nor the origins of Mami Wata rise from Africa but there is enough evidence to prove that her origins in the very first encounters of Africans and Europeans in the fifteenth century. Her first representations were supposedly from Europeans sailors that had claimed to have seen a water figure or mermaid. (Drewal, J. Henry) From the 19th century and there after she became a popular icon during the trades between Africa, Europe and the East. Her iconic photograph might have gained popularity due to her beauty and sex appeal. One of the images that I will be presenting are evidence on how influential she was and still is, although not all of her images were depicted by an African artists it depicts the African culture of the West; for instance one of the first images that was depicting her was made by a German artist by the name of Schleisinger, ca. 1926, to the African culture it did not matter where it came from because they would still place them within their shrines and altar they have created to honor and worship Mami Wata. One of the images that I will be presenting for this research is name Mami Wata, circa 1987 Zoumana Sane Pigment on glass 40.6 x 30.5 This beautiful image shows Mami Wata in full bloom of sexual appeal holding a snake with both hands as another snake is reaching towards her chest, black thick hair flowing down her back and the assertiveness in her eyes and facial expression shows her in control of both creatures as well as memorizing the viewer with her beauty. The color and patterns are rich and bold representing Africa’s colorful patterns. When I first seen this image I feel in love with her right away; she is irresistible.

But interesting, to learn about the religious and spiritual aspects on following Mami Wata her popularity is not only found in Africa but she is also well known in South America and Europe. This West African culture is enriched with self awareness and originality to represent her. “Devotees of an African water spirit Mami Wata, take exotic objects, interpret them according to indigenous precepts, invest them with new meanings, and then represent them in inventive ways to serve their own aesthetic, devotional and social needs. (Drewall, J. Henry page 308) to fully understand this concept one can relate this with any form of interpretation of not only a culture but also an art perspective of any artist that becomes inspired by a specific culture or art forms and interpret it in their own way. It is acceptable when it refers to Mami Wata, other cultures specially if it is a religious concept can get a bit skeptical in a person of another culture wants to depict their culture or religious objects with art as I had mentioned previously for West Africans this is not the issue; they have focused more on the interpretation.

As this research developed it was interesting to see how an artist that has no knowledge of Mami Wata also became part of this enriched material culture. The contemporary artist that I chose for the comparison of old and new representations of material art is Sonji, a dear close friend that is based from Los Angeles California. To introduce Sonji one has to visualize living among indigenous grounds and by saying this I mean living in a culture enriched with colorful organic art, patterns that connect our blood veins with the drum beat and dance steps of Aztec dancers; feeling each and every sound of sea shells tied to their feet vibrating into the Earth, but yet, being awakened by the sounds of traffic from the streets and freeways of Los Angeles, graffiti walls, and the smell of smog. All of these elements can be found in her art as well as within her soul and perspective towards life. She loves vegetation as well teaching people how to use the Earth, how to respect her as well as learning how to keep a balance within ourselves as one is used to live a daily routine life struggling to find an inner connection with our ancestry. This is a concept that is hard for us to grasp and figure out but through art one can see the world through another eye and one can be influenced by it.

When I introduced Sonji to Mami Wata and the African culture and folk art depicting her, she became immediately interested in the culture and art practices that Mami Wata’s followers have established. It is more interesting to know that Sonji had never heard about Mami Wata and yet her art represents some of the patterns used in her art. As for an introduction of Mami Wata I explained to her how I came across her since I also was a new fan of Mami Wata,  I explained to her that I had spoke with my professor about who Sonji was as an individual an artist and that as a result Professor Klemm introduced Mami Wata to me. This blew Sonji’s mind away because we both had realized that her art did resemble Mami Wata without even knowing her; from that point on this research became a personal experience for knowledge of a complete new culture as well as art form for the both of us. Before this discovery, Sonji and I already had in mind which art piece we would use for this research and it is name “Concrete Indigenous” made in 2006. Acrylic and ink media. This beautiful art piece has a composition that has been divided by the middle of the canvas and which can be flip from top to bottom and still depict the same subject matter. The piece consist of a landscape, mountains, valleys as well as a lake with the sun bright, when one flips the canvas it turns into a nocturnal image, it is the dark skies, the moon and the city landscapes of Los Angeles. What connects this both elements of night and day is a large snake that linked them both by holding on to the moon and the sun with her head and tail. The colors are rich and the patterns of dots and indigenous designs do elaborate the concept of “Concrete Indigenous”.  It was a perfect match to Mami Wata’s art work and culture, even though they were both so different by region they both represented a culture enriched by both art appeal and material representation on self identity.

The research and data was obtained through going to galleries, reading books and searching for images on Mami Wata online; Sonji was fascinated by her beauty and for what she represented. As the research evolved so did Sonji, on one of the last meetings that we had before presenting this topic to the class, she admitted to enjoy learning about Mami Wata, she was inspired by her so much that Sonji depicted Mami Wata in a series of canvas; I was amazed to see how Mami Wata had influenced Sonji so much but one thing that Sonji just could not understand were the feeling as to why she was so inspired by her even though she was not African nor practiced any religious beliefs that many devotees have done throughout the decades. And it brought questions to this issue; how can one become connected to a spirit or ancestral culture that has nothing to do with coming from a Hispanic or indigenous background? How can a connection be so genuine? Even I began to have the same sentiments towards Mami Wata, I wanted her to become part of my world as well, was it because she was a strong image and rich culture that was led by a woman for once? Or was it a desire to be like her or be strong and be approved of our achievements and good deeds by her? All of the above I presume, but it all finally made sense in one f the materials that I was using for the research; it finally brought answers to both of us and coincidently they were the answers that we wanted to hear.

On one of the passages that really brought a true connection between Mami Wata and Sonji was the following, just to insure you that this was read and discovered by Sonji herself during one of the meetings that we had during this research;

“Through a process of inversion, artists use alien styles and images to reinforce indigenous ideas. Mami Wata is particularity concerned with alien things because their water spirit is perceived to be “foreign”. They do not use alien objects to understand the ideas of the other, but rather to examine and construct themselves and their own society. As persons who are often troubled by the questions of self identity.”(Drewall, J. Henry)

Sonji was indentifying with a being that was foreign to her and at the same time she was able to form her own perspective as to who Mami Wata was for as well as what she meant for Sonji’s spirituality and eternal balance with materialism and spirituality. Both can be balanced though Mami Wata; there is no need for sabotage of self identity or indigenous background as well as there is no remorse or feeling of betrayal to seek some sort of guidance from another spirit or being that is not part of our ancestry.

It was a privilege to be a part of new profound discovery of self identity and inspiration for Sonji’s life not only as an artist but also as an individual because she always presented herself to be strongly connected to her culture and roots and that was interpreted in her art. As for Mami Wata, she also holds a special place in my home and heart, it is inevitable to resist on converting to Mami Wata, and I could truly understand why the African culture has chosen to turn her into an icon that can be loved by everyone. And although at first it might seem suspicious to create a culture and religion based on materialism and beauty but that is a contemporary concept that has been faced even during the evolvement of pop culture; linking consumer products as things that we worship and adored as well as people that turn into our icons as we wish we were just like them or have a piece or replica of them in our home space, it is all acceptable in the end.

In conclusion, summarizing all of these new findings and self identity discoveries one can trace it back to Ancient Africa, having many water spirits before colonization; among the beliefs and traditions honoring Mami Wata; the African water spirit also known as the African mermaid she has been depicted in many art forms and this research will focus on paintings. To embrace these old traditions with contemporary art work I will compare Mami Wata’s culture with Sonji a Los Angeles based artist; an amazing individual who as well as Mami Wata’s followers has been inspired by Mami Wata’s beauty and spiritual strength.