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Frida and Tina

UK, 1982 (MIFF 1984)

Director: Laura Mulvey, Peter Wollen

This film is about two women artists, Frida Kahlo (1907-54) and Tina Modotti (1896-1942), who lived and worked in Mexico during the period of the "Mexican Renaissance". Kahlo was a painter who developed a distinctive personal style, based on Mexican popular forms, to convey an intense inner world of emotional and physical suffering. Modotti was a photographer, who came to Mexico as the companion and model of Edward Weston.

From whom she learned a purist and formal photographic style which she later combined with deep political commitment. The film shows how, as both women and artists, they reacted in contrasting ways to the pressures and opportunities of Mexico in its post-revolutionary aftermath. The problems they faced are those which still concern women artists today. The film is a tangible record of an exhibition of their works mounted by Mulvey and Wollen at the Whitechapel Gallery in Spring, 1982. The structurally impeccable organisation of the material drives home the importance of two sadly overlooked artists and their relevance to feminist, Third World, and popular culture.

The three headings—History, Biography, Body—are examined in parallel, shifting from Tina's geometric rigour to Frida's full, haunting colours: from newsreels of Porfirio Diaz's downfall to a tender home movie of Frida with her companion, Diego Rivera. Frida's 'Roots' (she was born, lived and died in one house) are set against Tina's 'Movements'—exiled from one corner of the world to the other, from Hollywood beauty to determined revolutionary. Frida's inward exploration centres on her desire for a child thwarted by her disabled body. Tina's outwardly political pursuits examine the work of women in a male dominated society.

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