As you enter the room and sit down on a chair or cube, you feel Frida Kahlo’s iconic portraits gazing down on you. When it’s time, the colorful paintings morph into a moving image while music plays in the background, and you’re transported into the life and story of one of the most famous artists of all time. The experience is magical.
In February, Lighthouse Immersive launched Immersive Frida Kahlo: Her Life. Her Love. Her Art. across nine North American cities, including Dallas and Houston. Lighthouse previously brought the works of Van Gogh to life with Immersive Van Gogh, but Immersive Frida Kahlo goes beyond showcasing the famous Mexican artist’s masterpieces. It gives viewers a chance to peer into her life, family, and soul.
A year ago, Lighthouse Immersive reached out to Fundación Familia Kahlo, a nonprofit foundation run by Kahlo’s living descendants, and asked permission to use the artist’s image and artwork. Mara Kahlo, Frida’s great niece who attended the Dallas and Houston openings with her daughter, Mara de Anda, saw this immersive exhibit as a chance for fans to get to know the woman behind the artwork.
“For us, it’s very important that the people know the other side of Frida,” Mara Kahlo tells me at the Dallas event. “In this experience you can feel her thoughts, her political ideas—her force and her strength.”
Fundación Familia Kahlo provided Lighthouse with photographs, drawings, and personal writings. During the show, these items, plus Frida Kahlo’s artwork, are projected on the walls and floor. Audio elements, like music and the sounds of a heartbeat, play in the background and add a dynamic element to a show that guides the viewer through Frida’s life—from childhood with her family to adulthood where she developed strong political beliefs, explored her identity, fell in love, created art, and traveled the world.
“You can go to a museum and see her artwork, but new generations, for example, can come here and get another idea of Frida because everybody knows about the sorrow, the pain in her life,” Mara Kahlo explains. “For our family, she was the auntie. She was happy. She liked children. She used to sing Mexican songs with her guitar, and she made a lot of jokes. And people don’t know that part of Frida, the joy.”
Along with the Immersive Frida Kahlo exhibit, Fundación Familia Kahlo has partnered with Lighthouse to give back to local organizations and communities, like the Oak Cliff Cultural Center and The Stewpot in Dallas and The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures, and Latin American Women Artists of Houston in Houston. Whether it’s hosting panels with these organizations or selling artwork by local artists at the exhibit retail stores (with 100% of the sales going back to the artists), the family hopes that these partnerships honor and are in keeping with Frida’s philanthropic legacy.
“In my house, the Red House, every Saturday, Frida and my grandmother used to give to more than 500 women a canista basica—a kilo of bean, kilo of sugar, and a kilo of rice,” Mara Kahlo says, adding that Frida also dressed up during Christmastime as Balthazar, the youngest of the three magi who visited Jesus, to deliver presents to children. “It’s a very unknown part of Frida. She was a human being with such a heart. We want to do the same for the people.”
For Hispanic people of Texas, the exhibit will be an especially impactful experience, as it’s a positive representation of Latino culture, history, and art, de Anda points out, saying, “When you live outside of Mexico or your country, you remember your roots. It’s something magical to have a Hispanic icon like Frida.”
In their collaboration with Lighthouse Immersive, the Kahlo family hopes they might capture the spirit of their famous aunt who was always inspiring others when she was alive. “She always told us, ‘You can do it,’” Mara Kahlo says. “For example, my mother was a dancer, a ballerina. Frida said to her, ‘If you’re going to be a dancer, be the best.’”
“Even though she was in all her pain, [Frida] told my great grandmother, ‘You have to practice every day, so you can be the best,’” de Anda adds. “‘And if you are not going to stand up here and practice, I’m going to do it.’ So, she stands up and dances like a ballerina. We have video of her dancing with my great grandmother.”
Although this particular video isn’t part of the exhibit, the story conveys how Frida Kahlo is more than just the portrait seen on massed-produced T-shirts or in her artwork shown around the globe. She is an inspiration and a symbol of joy and strength. Frida is someone we strive to be—and you leave the exhibit with that very feeling deep in your chest.
“The artwork, of course, it’s important, and that’s why she’s famous right now,” de Anda says. “But the person, the woman, behind the art is the one that we connect with. We, the family, want all the new generations to know her better, [so] you can be your own Frida.”
Immersive Frida Kahlo: Her Life. Her Love. Her Art. is showing in Dallas at Lighthouse Artspace Dallas, located at 507 S. Harwood St., and in Houston at Lighthouse Artspace Houston, located at 1314 Brittmoore Road, until May 29. Tickets can be purchased online.