Monday, May 17, 2010

Marcia Jones Interviewed on Frida Kahlo

Who is Frida Kahlo to you as woman?  For me Frida is a woman who's art is full of narrative. She tells a story in every painting. If you seriously focus and employ critical analysis when decoding her work, there is a language she speaks within the symbolism, her language is layered and abundant. Using the term "Surrealism" to describe her work to me is like calling Hip Hop "Rap" music. Frida's work is dynamic in range, a range of emotion that threads through the core of humanity. Her work to me articulates a woman's honest perspective of the human condition. Frida expresses how we love, how we struggle, and how we persevere despite our challenges.

What is your heritage? I am Native and Black American. Since going to Africa I never really call my self African American (only when around Black Bourgeoisie). I feel I haven't done enough for Africa to say I'm African anything. I know I have ancestral roots there and I do have pride in knowing my DNA traces back to Africa, but when asked on the immigration forms in Africa to "identify the nationality of the passport holder", while surrounded by Africans in Africa, I felt stuck on stupid... I felt like a poser. I had never felt such an overwhelming sense of imposing my "American Privilege". I put Black American. I see it like this, without being able to say exactly where I'm from in Africa, or being able to identify with a specific tribe cause I contribute (my time or american dollars) to uplift the community with social justice... I saw too much injustice while there, unfortunately we americans focus and care too much about the wrong things. The stuff that doesn't really matter like Tiger Woods and Beyonce, the truth is Africans are well aware of Black America's displaced if not lazy discernment for Africa... so I say Black American. Even America's idea of "Black " is dismantled and displaced... So all that to say.. I'm 1920-50 Pro Black Garveyite American and Native American.

I truly believe that you can tell the state of a nation by taking a closer look at its women. What do you feel is Frida’s greatest contribution to Mexico?  I agree. If the women are oppressed and the Country is at War spiritually no good can come of it. As an Activist I feel Frida found purpose and passion in her country and her political views. Her love affair with Leon Trotsky, Josephine Baker, and Tina Modotti speaks to that. I feel Frida is her greatest contribution to her country. How she was determined to express her forward way of thinking and living no matter what. She was and still is a Revolutionary Art Activist Woman, she had a voice and often expressed her opinion with diplomacy, vigor, and passion. But lets be clear she seemed to be the type of woman that always had a thought behind the thought. She seemed determined to hold true to her beliefs and philosophy. Her actions were not contingent on a man, a church, a school, or any traditional institution. Especially an institution grounded in patriarchy or political dominance. It has been said that her art and her life are one in the same, when viewing her work there should be no division. To understand her is to understand her work.

What do you feel is Frida’s greatest contribution to women? I feel her greatest contribution to women is her honesty.. read her journal! Her ability to poetically articulate the complex layers of her inner thoughts with such passion. Her mental, political, spiritual and emotional selves all overlapped, and at times ran congruent with contradiction so poetically, often her love read juxtaposed with fear and conflict, she exposes it all to the world. Her painting are a whisper in comparison to her journal. Really the journal informs the paintings not the other way around. The "high art world" calls her work "surrealism". I just call it real! The way artistic women do mostly everything is "surreal" we have to be out of this world. Frida's work gives Women an opportunity to see themselves from the outside in, we have to be honest about ourselves to honestly say you understand her works. I personally find strength in her tenacious audacity to be so damn honest and brave especially with her vulnerability. She withheld nothing about her life. I love how her work is both objective and subjective... how she viewed her life as both the observer and the participant. She experienced her life with passion even when bed ridden she moved forward with determination... she was honest about her love for Diego and for Women. She was explicitly honest about her physical challenges, her needs, and her desires..everything. Even though it wasn't a "Woman's proper place".

How would you describe yourself as an artist? As an Artist I feel I share many of Frida's qualities. If I had to describe myself I'd say.. I'm simply complex... a pendulum swinging from a string theory...a woman full of ethical and moral paradoxes... yet my parameters are padded with common sense.. a sense that I guess is not so common these days. I'm ethically strange I guess. I'm often misunderstood and deemed arrogant because of my standards. To par myself down I'd describe myself as a little girl in a grown woman's body yearning for a taste of commonality, a familiar language, a sense of trust, and security ... a shared love among humanity for truth and balance, a world without so much  anxious hunger for money driven over-sensationalized extremes based on insecurities. I often call my works " the beautiful suffering of"... or "the visual emotion of"... I've been asked to paint "happy" things... but I relic in an obsessions for love, logic, theory, science, philosophy, justice and facts way too much for that. Happiness is relative at best, very transient thus fleeting at times. There is a state of peace and delight that can be achieved. Getting there and sustaining it is the key. Affirming and defining my life with joy is the goal. Laughter makes me happy... sharing laughter make me even happier. How do you paint laughter?? Parody?? thus "paradox" make a joke or contradiction of it. See!! I'm back to where I started. My circles and spirals in "Spirit Images" are about that... ancient truth womb circle spiral truth. I don't do well with fiction well maybe science fiction I guess say Octavia Butler that's why I love Dirk Joseph's work. I do believe that on a cellular level things can transform but nationally a united collective consciousness is necessary. That's why I love Brooklyn circa 96-01. Magic Momentum and Movement at its finest!

Would you tell about any works you’ve created  that have been inspired by Frida?  All of my works have been inspired by Frida especially Spirit Images. Spirit Images is my first body of work I started in 1995 as a self taught painter. I was working as a personal assistant to Harriette Cole at Essence Magazine before I started painting I got knocked up so I got fired LOL . I jokingly say my undergraduate painting experience was on stage as a live performance painter to spoken word and live music in Brooklyn 1996-99. That experience was incredibly amazing for me .. it was undoubtedly a movement that I believe shaped the "spoken word" movement today. I am the self proclaimed Mother of Live Performance Painting In the spoken word genre . I had the fortune of painting live with the likes of the (all Pre) infamous Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Erykah Badu, Saul Williams, Hanifah Walidah, Mike Ladd, MuMs, Martin Luther, Ndambi Blue, asha bandele, Jessica Care Moore, Tamar Kali, and Imani Urzuri all dear friends still. I began to study Fridas work around this time, her images drew me in, hers Georgia Okeffe, Monica Sooj, and Judy Chicago were my favorite. But of them all Fridas work demanded me to feel the most! With Resolved: The Beautiful Suffering of the Secrets you Never Tell 2008 my latest I employ a mixture of Susan Sontag images shot by Lebovitz, Nan Goldin, and Frida's work. I collaborated with the amazing Frank Ishman on Resolved. He's a luscious mystery on an angel with a camera!!

What do you think Frida would think about your work?  I think she'd immediately question my honesty. I hold onto my secrets too tight and an arms distance to my viewer. If you get it I let you in.. thats to my own demise. I have trust issues cause I'm not married and/or in love. Hence I don't feel safe to be outwardly exposed. This may sound strange to some and not so strange to others. I have done 2 portraits of Frida and both times during the entire process she spoke to me, she was there, I could communicate with her. While creating one portrait I cross examined Frida Kahlo to the Saint Erzuli Frida ( they both showed up) and the other portrait is of myself as Frida and Saul Williams as Diego. Her painting is titled Diego on my mind and my portrait is "Forever the Diego to My Frida" I know she likes both of those portraits, but I think she'd really push me on Resolved/The Beautiful Suffering of the Secret you Never Tell 2008,  to the point of full disclosure. I'm still hiding inside my shell for the most part.

Frida was born July 6th, 1907, she later said that her birth year was 1910,which was the beginning of the Mexican Revolution. What changes have you made to invent yourself into the woman and artist you are today? Ha! I was a cheerleader in high school and my first year at Clark Atlanta University.. yup booty shake, hip twist, and all... a HBCU cheerleader! I wanted to be a Laker Girl and then move on to a Hollywood choreographer like the Fly Girls. I got a story for that but I'd digress. My name nick name in High School was Lil Abdul as in Paula! My hip hop /house dance crew name was Marc (even shorter for Marci). 2000-2002 I danced for a Brazilian dance collective in Santa Monica California Swing Brazil. We had several beautiful performances but my favorite was with Perry Ferrel, I got to dance Orisha folklore and Performance Paint while in costume! Perry is such an amazing performer! So yeah dance was my first artistic love, writing my second but my grammar is wretched. If you have ever watched me performance paint I'm dancing really. I also wanted to be a Fashion Stylist, I earned my BA in Fashion Merchandising and Design from Clark Atlanta University. When I first got to NYC in 95. I was fortunate to cross paths with the best. I worked with Hariette Cole, Micheala Angela Davis, and Misa Hylton.

Frida was struck with polio as a child which left her right leg thinner and weaker than her left leg. Do you as an woman have any childhood physical insecurities that have ultimately made you stronger?  I was born premature 2 pounds 13 oz. I believe how we are born into this world is how we will live our lives. I was born ahead of my time fighting for my life. I almost died in childbirth and another time when I graduated from grad school. It took me 60 hours to deliver my daughter. I passed out the day I got my Masters. Funny, when I run into people from Grad school they're like "OMG I thought you died". It's these experiences that catapulted me to create. Saul Williams' first book the Seventh Octave (moore black press) is dedicated to our daughter Saturn. The cover image titled Waterbirth is the first painting in my Spirit Images series... I really wanted a Waterbirth. Resolved 2008 is about the Grad school experience.

During her long and painful recovery from the horrific bus/trolley accident Frida truly showed great talent as a painter. Her pain is well illustrated in her work. Do you use your art as a filter for your physical pain, if yes, How? Yes, all of my work articulates my pain that's why I create. While finalizing my thesis work in 2004 I was diagnosed with MS. I have been living in and out of remission for 6 years. My lapses are always triggered by disappointments and  heartache. Every lapse has been linked to a breakup and/or my inconsistencies in faith. Thats been my most held tight secret. Yet I couldn't fully conduct this interview and not expose that. The one thing I refuse to do is condemn myself to hypocrisy. I created the Resolved 2008 works during my residency at the Studioplex art complex on the historic Auburn Ave. I lived there alone in perfect solitude in a 3000 sq. ft. live/work studio loft. I didn't exposed my health problems to the public.  I just put it in the work.  I never really felt fully embraced or safe enough to be completely honest verbally I was still coping let alone inviting others in to my healing process....I felt there was so much backlash and resentment about being awarded the space from the visual art community so I just retreated. I never felt aligned enough in ATL to any particular "crowd" that is until I met Leah and Chloe of Rising Appalachia! Have you ever met someone who can finish your sentences, understand you, and be so on point. We shared a communal home with 4 other women... we all were women united across diversities, it was a harmonious and beautiful home. Until we learned it was contaminated with Black Mold. The "Portal Palace" an enchanted palace of  Black, White, Jewish, Jamaican, Singer, Musician, Film maker, Farmer, Yoga Instructor, Painter, Actress, Professor, Buddhist, Baptist, Fire Spinners, and Activist with Chickens, neighboring Goats, 2 Dogs, a compost heaps, recycling bins, bikes, and a garden....ahead of our time! It was a healthy community of like minded women. I felt safe enough to tell them and they showed up for me in my most crucial moment. In Sept of 2009 because of the mold,  I experienced the worst lapse I ever had. Overnight I couldn't walk, talk, drive or comprehend the simplest of things. I was in a wheelchair but with their love and support I'm back up healthy. I love my sisters of the palace. 

Later in life Frida married Diego Rivera, famed Mexican artist. After experiencing bouts of infidelity with Rivera she stated “ I suffered two grave accidents in my life, one in which a streetcar ran me over, the other accident is Diego.” How did her art change or evolve after her “other accident”, Diego? Her spirit was broken. I have a piece in  Resolved titled "If You Love Her then Love Her Well." its pretty much about that. See to be honest I've been broken and put back together so many times that to tell my whole story now you'll have to fill in the blanks with your own story so it can read as whole...but one specifically Saul Williams and I got back together briefly in 2007, I felt we had full circled, yet he called me to inform me he was marrying "the actress"...hence him being the " Forever the Diego to my Frida" piece which I exhibited at the Excavating Motherhood exhibit at B.A.G in NYC. in December 2007.

Like all the women of the Jewelry, Art, Music & Movement project Frida did not limit herself because of other’s limited imagination. What kinds of limitations have been placed on you as a woman and artist? How have you overcome them? Wow first thing that comes to mind is the being a "Black Woman Visual Artist" limitation. There is only one granted entry to the "club" at a time. For the most part Thelma Goldin seems to be the gate keeper then we have a few runner ups to follow.  My new favorite Black Woman curator is Shantrelle Lewis, she rebukes the politicking and is honestly about the content of the work. I have this running joke, it's not a nice one but I feel like its so true in the elite fine art world..."wow, she got into what show or omg she got what grant??? Damn that had to cost her about 50 dicks LOL. I'm a bit stubborn, it's not that they don't work hard for opportunity, I just won't compromise my integrity to get ahead. I know there is a game to be played but I don't want it that way. I exercise choice and if refusing to sleep with someone to get ahead sets me back 15 years so be it. Believe me I've been offered and I have been denied. For every blue ball comes a black one to follow. My legacy has to be consistent with my standards for my daughter and her generation. That was one of my peeves with the movie, that so much was focused on her intimate sex life, than the content of her work. Take the story of Saul Williams and I for that matter, we very much loved each other, made a person and some art, now we are linked in love and art forever.  That a story she'll be proud to tell about her mother as an artist.

What legacy do you want to leave as a woman and artist? My story (ya'll haven't even heard the half of it!) my daughter, and my art. I want my daughters children to open the herstory books and say thats my Grandmother... I have this pair of Frida Kahlo socks (my lucky socks)... I want a pair of socks made out of an image of me, hand bags, and beaded curtains and stuff like that. I want my work to auctioned at Christie's and Sotheby's (not today but one day) but hopefully for ages to come. Please don't think I don't issue Letters of Authenticity with every original work sold..and trust my daughter will be the guardian of my estate.
 So people who have collected my works thus far..I appreciate you! 


  1. Continue to draw your circles and create your revolutions. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself [your magic] much love.

  2. You are an amazing woman, an inspiration to us all. The One Who set the sun and the universe in its place has His eyes on you. You are His Beloved...