Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Death of Frida Kahlo

Frida lay on her four-poster bed dressed in a black Tehuana skirt and in the white huipil from Yalalag. Her friends braided her hair with ribbons and flowers. They adorned her with earrings, necklaces of silver, coral and jade, and placed her hands across her body; every finger wore a ring. A white pillow with starched bands of Mexican lace framed her face. Beside her head was a vase of roses. A single foot with bright red toenails protruded below the hem of her long skirt. Next to it were branches of red flowers. From the shelf by the bed, Chinese dolls and pre-Columbian idols stared over the scene.

Olga Campos was one of the early mourners: "It was terrible for me, Frida was still warm when I arrived at the house around ten or eleven in the morning. She got goose pimples when I kissed her, and I started screaming, 'She's alive! She's alive!', but she was dead".

The crematorium at the Panteon Civil de Dolores was small and extremely primitive. Crowded into the tiny hot room were friends and family, cultural representatives of various socialist countries, the secretaries of the Mexican Communist party as well as lumineries from the worlds of art and literature. Outside, hundreds of guests stood amongst the tombstones underneath the ceaseless rain. Frida's coffin was brought into the anteroom and opened. She lay with a diadem of red carnations around her head and a rebozo covering her shoulders.

At a quarter past one, Rivera and various other family members lifted her out of the coffin and laid her on an automatic cart that would carry her along iron tracks to the cemetary oven. It was at this point that something almost as grotesque as La Goya's Los Caprichos took place. Adelina Zendejas remembers, "Everyone was hanging onto Frida's hands when the cart began to pull her body toward the oven's entrance. They threw themselves on top of her, and yanked her fingers in order to take off her rings, because they wanted to have something that belonged to her."

At the moment when Frida entered the furnace, the intense heat made her sit up, and her blazing hair stood out from her face in an aureole. Siqueiros said that when the flames ignited her hair, her face appeared as if smiling in the center of a large sunflower.

The fires in the old-fashioned crematorium took four hours to do their job. Frida's ashes retained the shape of her skeleton for a few minutes before being dispersed by currents of air. When Rivera saw this, he lowered his clenched fist and reached into the right-hand pocket of his jacket to take out a small sketchbook. With his face completely absorbed in what he was doing, he drew Frida's silvery skeleton. Then he fondly gathered up her ashes in a red cloth, and put them in a cedar box. He asked that his ashes be mixed with Frida's when he died.

Adapted from Frida, by Hayden Herrera.

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