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Thanks to Frida, SFMOMA Finally Draws Latino Crowd

New America Media, News report, Amanda Martinez Posted: Jul 23, 2008

Editor's Note: The San Francisco Museum of Modern Arts Frida Kahlo exhibit is drawing a surge of Latino visitors, reports NAM education reporter Amanda Martinez.

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Arts Frida Kahlo exhibit is drawing a surge of Latino visitors, the result of outreach efforts and an innovative multimedia installation in English and Spanish. Kahlo, who is considered among the top five Mexican artists, is regarded as an image of pride and strength in the Latino community. The much-anticipated arrival of her art to San Francisco offers the museum which has struggled to dispel its image as an exclusive and unapproachable institution a critical opportunity to engage the Spanish-speaking community in a way that has never been done before.

Kahlo's painting draws Latino Crowd - photo credit: Amanda Martinez

In preparation for the exhibit that opened in mid-June, all of the text on brochures, gallery walls, and the museum Web site, was translated into Spanish. Local Spanish-language media also played a prominent role in publicizing the exhibit.

With the help of the museum's education department, the exhibit and supplementary museum spaces have been transformed into an art experience that is more accessible to Spanish speakers and first-time visitors.

"It's heartening to hear Spanish being spoken in the galleries," says Stephanie Pau, manager of gallery interpretation in the museums education department. As she observes the influx of Latino visitors to the museum, Pau says the success of these outreach efforts exposes the fact that the Latino audience may have been neglected by the museum in the past.

Interactive guide to Kahlo's exhibit. Photo credit: Amanda Martinez

The exhibit also asks Anglo museum visitors to move beyond the icon-ism of Frida Kahlo that is so often exploited through T-shirts, handbags, and jewelry. Made up of 45 paintings and 70 personal photographs, the exhibit is supplemented by a range of educational components and programs that use her artwork and life as way of exploring the various themes of her art among them Mexicos cultural heritage.

For the first time the museum is offering a self- guided multimedia tour, complete with hand held players. The touch screen allows the viewer to zoom in on painting details and access explanations about the symbolism and subjects of the paintings. Photographs, videos, and narrative commentary are used to explain the time period of post revolutionary Mexico, Kahlo's artistic roots in pre-Colombian and Mexican folk art, and her involvement in the communist party. Audio commentary from other artist, musicians, and scholars articulate some of the difficult topics she addresses in her work, including the body, self identity, suffering, sexuality, and monogamy. In one section, Esm Rodriguez, an activist, scholar and drag performer, explains how Kahlos work has helped her understand the blurred line between gender and biological sex in her own life.

Complimenting Kahlos paintings are two learning lounges that hold wall graphics, silent video, and interactive computer kiosks that can be used to learn about Kahlo's time in San Francisco, her rise to cult celebrity, and her influence on the Chicano, gay, and women's social movements.

Beyond the gallery walls, in the Koret Visitor Education Center, are daily screenings of films about Kahlo's life and the history of Mexico.

Those looking for the complete cultural experience can visit the museum caf to try traditional Mexican foods such as mole, tamales, and stuffed chiles or browse through the museum gift shop where more than 200 handmade items from Mexican artisans are being sold.

By incorporating these details, the museum is making a genuine effort to pay tribute to the artist, her home country, and the nations growing Latino communities.

Julie Charles, who works in the museum's education and family programming department, says the museum hopes that the general public will use the Kahlo exhibit as a jumping off point to begin discussions about cultural heritage, politics, and self-identification in art. The museums Art Think Web page offers teachers a curriculum based on these themes as a way of teaching Kahlos art in the classroom.

The Frida Kahlo exhibit runs June 14 to Sept. 28 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Listen to John Zarobell, curator at the Musueum of Modern Art in San Francisco, and Salvador Acevedo MOMA marketing consultant


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