For our last post for the holidays, I’d like to turn to a familiar character in Mexican popular culture and history: Frida. But, instead of looking at her art or pondering her tempestuous marriage with Diego Rivera, her wild affairs (including Leon Trotsky and Josephine Baker), and her tragic bus accident, I’d like to look at Frida in a different light – food, fashion and fame.
Until the 1990s, Frida’s artwork was relatively unknown outside of the Mexico City art world; however, her style of entertaining and cooking was renowned to anyone who was a guest at the Casa Azul. Just like her trademark Oaxacan style of dress, her way with food, especially celebratory and holiday dishes, were essential parts of her artistic character, as central to her paintings as the brushes themselves. The vibrant colors of southern Mexico’s textiles, the fragrant stew of Oaxacan mole, and the Spanish copla music were all a part of her world, and the world she inspired for others. Below you’ll find a couple of Frida’s recipes from The Latin Kitchen perfect for the winter holidays.
In the last two decades, Frida’s life has become the object of wild popularity, with her biography at times eclipsing the popularity of her actual artwork. In short, Frida has inspired a sort of cult, sometimes called “Fridamania”. But, understanding why Frida (the artist) became so famous, and why this happened starting in the ‘90s, is to understand something about ourselves. In “The Trouble with Frida”, Stephanie Mencimer explains that, beyond her artwork, Frida transcended many societal limitations that were placed on women: her fearlessness of abnormality as illustrated by her embracing her luxurious facial hair, and her vibrant, if unorthodox, love life connected strongly to the popular ambience of art and media in the ‘90s.
Not only did Frida’s personality find a home among art and fashion critics tired of the same female model-figures (anticipating Dove’s 2004 “Campaign for Real Beauty”), Frida also quenched “the art establishment’s demand for tragic bio as a prerequisite for greatness”. The explosive popularity of Frida 50 years after her death anticipated a large-scale movement in popular culture that is quite evident today – just look at some of the most famous biographical movies of artistic subjects in recent years and their focus on tragedy, flaws, and abnormality rather than glory and fame (see Academy Award winners: Ray (2004); Walk the Line (2005); A Beautiful Mind (2001)). Not to mention, 2002’s Frida, for which superstar Selma Hayek received her only Oscar nomination.
A Frida Favorite: Pumpkin Tamales (Tamales de Calabaza)
- 4 dried corn husks
- 2 cups masa harina
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup lard
- 8 ounces pumpkin or kabocha squash, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
- 4 ounces Oaxaca string cheese or mozzarella, finely chopped
- 1 handful epazote leaves (no stems), finely chopped
- 1 red jalapeño chile, finely chopped
Image: “Homage to Frida,” original work by Wikimedia artist and user GEMDIAZ.