For those with a taste for cultural confusion, a photo exhibition on two of Mexico’s most famous visual artists – supported by the country’s ambassador to Cambodia, who resides in Hanoi – will open next week in the gallery at Phnom Penh’s German cultural centre, Meta House.
But Complicities: Frida and Diego has a pretty clear focus: the tumultuous partnership between painter Frida Kahlo and public muralist Diego Rivera and the social context in which they worked, when art became a means for change and national identity. There are 37 black-and-white photos in the exhibition – many taken by famous artists in their own right – with captions in Khmer.
Ambassador Sara Valdés Bolaño and cultural attaché Martín Muñoz Ledo organised Frida and Diego with the help of the Royal University of Fine Arts’ Char printmaking studio, which was founded by a Mexican artist in 2011, and has facilitated artistic exchange between Mexico and the Kingdom ever since.
But studio professor Fernando Aceves Humana was quick to point out that Mexican art history isn’t exactly at the forefront of the curriculum – even the work of Frida and Diego. “They’re not very well known in Cambodia,” he said. “So I think a show in Phnom Penh about their life is an excellent idea.”
“I found the exhibition interesting, but especially Frida,” explained Nico Mesterharm, Meta House’s director. “She was a female artist in a country where female artists struggle, as in Cambodia.”
Mesterharm highlighted one Cambodian artist in particular who had taken Kahlo as an inspiration: Sokuntevy Oeur, who currently resides in Berlin. “She’s always liked Frida,” he said with a smile.
It shows in Tevy’s work: for years, the 32-year-old Battambang artist – like Kahlo – has explored taboo themes in her surrealist acrylic portraits: from homosexuality, to prostitution, to Western excess. She’s even been known to paint a few female Buddhas.
Frida and Diego opens on the heels of a blockbuster show focused on the couple in Sydney’s Art Gallery of New South Wales. For its organisers, the chance to bring just a small slice of their lives to Phnom Penh seems an equal success.
Frida and Diego: Complicities opens on Tuesday, July 5, at Meta House, #37 Sothearos Boulevard, at 6pm.