This is the second post of a short series on my recent visit to Casa Azul, the building in Coyoacán that was Frida Kalho’s home from birth till death. Last week I wrote about Frida’s studio; this time I want to show you some of her ex-votos. The term ex-voto comes form the Latin expression ex votum, meaning “from a vow”. In the Christian tradition, these are votive offerings dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Jesus or any of a number of saints to thank them for their aid in moments of great need – such as being engulfed by flames or lost at sea!
Ex-votos were commissioned from anonymous folk painters by donors and painted on small sheets of tin. The compositions betray a naive command of perspective, gesture, colour and form. At the bottom, a brief narrative of the event that caused the donor to make the offering as an expression of gratitude is incorporated by the painter.
Frida’s collection of ex-votos is one of the largest in Mexico and comprises works made between 1842 and 1934. In addition to their value as popular artworks, these small pictures depict everyday life in Mexico in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Each one stands as a unique symbol of dialogue, sacrifice, devotion and faith.
We can see the influence of this style of naive painting in many of Frida’s works: she incorporated the surrealistic qualities of ex-votos into works that fused mysticism and mortality, with allusions to the earthly – making reference, perhaps, to the torment of her own physical ailments.
Next time, in the third part of this short series on my visit to Frida Kalho’s house, I’ll share images of some of her stunning dresses, jewellery and accessories.