In the Art, Cinema and Theology class we have been exploring the role of women in the arts and particularly women painters and their general absence from Western Art History. We found our way to a discussion about Frida Kahlo, inspired by the movie about her starring Selma Hayek and directed by Julie Taymor. I think that there are rich conversations to be had around her life and work, but a question came up during class about how to 'do theology with someone who is a communist and an atheist'--points that I actually think are favourable for a conversation, but somehow seemed to be a stumbling block to at least one person. I guess it all depends on how one understands what theological discourse might be--for me it encompasses at least some aspect of bringing things (anything) into dialogue and conversation. While I part complany with the conclusions of the Radical Orthodoxy mob, I do like Graham Ward's idea that doing theology somehow means 'reclaiming the world'--bringing all the things once ceded to the wider culture back into contact and conversation with sacred communities and with theology. So for me Frida Kahlo offers up some major theological potentials: sexuality and gender; socialism/marxism, theism/a-theism, pain and brokenees just to name a few.
I recommended that anyone interested in grappling with Kahlo familiarize themselves with some Marxist theory--there is no doubt that the early twentieth centuries fascination with Marxist theory, and revolution, factored quite heavily into her life and work. She was a communist and was married to Diego Rivera, muralist and influential Mexican communist--they welcomed Trotsky into their home during his exile, and of course her work and writing is filled with reference to the people's struggles. I put Roland Boer's masterful work, Criticism of Heaven: On Marxism and Theology, on the table for anyone interested in pushing deeper. It is a dense work, but offers up some great insights into eight Marxist critics covering a spectrum of views, Catholic, Biblical and Protestant--a nice handling of Zizek. From Louis Althusser we get this delicious quote,
"Marx did not 'say everything', not only because he did not have the time, but because to 'say everything' makes no sense for a scientist; only a religion can pretend to 'say everything.'"
We looked at some of Kahlo's works, including the top image entitled, Moses, which represents the Sun as the source of all religions. The painting was inspired by Sigmund Freud’s Moses and Monotheism, which makes a link between Ancient Egyptian beliefs, Moses, and the origins of monotheistic religion. It's a three-tiered painting--the top layer featuring gods; the second layer full of heroes and includes Hitler, whom Kahlo called, 'The Lost Child' and the lower level featuring the masses and refers to the evolutionary process.
Kahlo's life was marked by an accident that left her with life-long pain, unable to have children and forced to endure at least thirty-five major surgeries to attempt to correct her physical disabilites and alleviate her pain-none of which seem to have worked. Pain of all kinds--physical, emotional(her troubled relationship with Rivera, a renowned womaniser addd another layer of heartache to her already burdened life) and spiritual--again a rich source of opportunity for theological conversation.