Frida mania is currently sweeping the world. This year alone there have been retrospectives in Russia, Brazil and Italy and the largest ever collection of works by Frida Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera will open at the Art Gallery of NSW in June.
Now it is Australia’s turn to see Falling in Love with Frida, a theatrical performance by UK-based Australian choreographer and performer Caroline Bowditch. It has already been performed more than 80 times in Europe, to great acclaim.
The show was conceived by Bowditch as an homage to her hero Kahlo, but also to reclaim her as a disabled artist.
“Frida Kahlo lived with disability, her disability was always explicit in her work but we very rarely [speak of] her as a disabled artist. So [my work] is reclaiming her as a disabled artist,” says Bowditch, who has lived with Osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease) her whole life.
Kahlo was born in 1907 and developed polio at age six. She was later involved in a horrific bus accident that left her with severe injuries.
“Frida makes me want to be braver and this piece is very much about that,” says Bowditch, whose all-female show uses dance and movement to represent little-known facts about Kahlo’s life. Through letters, spoken word and original material, Bowditch draws parallels to her own life.
Following a season at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival The Herald Scotland noted the show was “deliciously wry, humorously conversational and disarmingly frank.”
Producer Gaele Sobott said it had been frustrating convincing mainstream venues in Australia to take on the show, despite the fact Falling in Love with Frida had toured mainstream theatres including Sadlers Wells and Southbank in London.
“There are barriers that we face,” says Sobott, whose company Outlandish Art focuses on broadening access for artists with disability. “The venues that have opened their doors to the show are doing a fantastic job. This is what will make change happen.”
Bowditch says support in the UK far outweighs that in Australia when it comes to artists with disabilities, although she acknowledges that Australia Council’s announcement of $1 million in funding for artists with a disability was “a massive thing for the community”.
“I think things are gradually shifting but [sometimes it feels like] the world isn’t shifting with it.”
Falling in Love with Frida is being performed at Parramatta Riverside Theatres March 4-5 before touring Newcastle, Wollongong and Melbourne.
Frida and Diego runs June 25 – October 9 at the Art Gallery of NSW.