Diego Rivera’s 1928 mural, “The Arsenal,” is one of the first of his grand tableaux you see as you walk through the High Museum of Art’s astonishing new show, “Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics, and Painting.” In many ways it set the up the narrative. With a communist hammer-and-sickle flag flying behind her and a bayonet in her right hand, Frida Kahlo — Diego Rivera’s soon-to-be wife — stands front and center.
At the far right of the image stands a prim-looking woman in a red top and black skirt holding an ammo belt. She is Tina Modotti, an Italian photographer and activist who would host the couple’s wedding banquet at her apartment building the following year.
Rivera’s daughter from a previous marriage, Guadalupe Rivera, was at that banquet, and her published recollections give insight into the feasts that fueled Frida and Diego’s relationship.
“Tina’s patio was lavishly decorated with pendants and streamers, transformed into a festive setting with all the friendly charm of a Mexican village,” she writes in “Frida’s Fiesta’s: Recipes and Reminiscences of Life with Frida Kahlo.” (Clarkson Potter)
The book, published in 1994 and co-authored with Marie-Pierre Colle, takes readers through the seasons in Mexican cooking that would have defined the diets of Frida and Diego. It is filled with reminiscences of memorable meals, such as the feast the family enjoyed after a Frida Kahlo art show. But perhaps the most evocative description is of that banquet.
“A mariachi band played nonstop, and the guests sipped tequila and munched on pork rinds with avocado as they waited for the newlyweds to arrive.”
Under streamers dangling from the beaks of papier-mâché doves, guests ate traditional and decidedly modest Mexican dishes: stuffed chiles in broth, Oaxacan-style mole and huauzontles (a frilly leaf vegetable called “goosefoot” in English) in green tomatillo sauce. The main course, a bit more elaborate, was an oyster soup. In Mexico as elsewhere, oysters are considered an aphrodisiac, thus perfectly suited to a wedding banquet.
The event was not without incident. Guadalupe’s mother, Lupe Marín, was not only present but she had prepared the feast with the help of cooks brought in from the market near Tina Modotti’s home. Yet at one point during the party she got into an argument with Kahlo, which turned into a full-fledged shoving match. Rivera had to separate the women.
The party went on, however, and quite merrily. Guests got drunk on tequila and pulque — a kind of beer made from fermented agave juice. Some of it was flavored with celery; some with purple prickly pear.
Late at night, those who were still partying or too drunk to leave served themselves bowls of pozole and tostadas heaped with chicken and avocado.
Years later, Guadalupe went to live with Frida and Diego, and she recalls that Frida liked to entertain guests until she was too sick and bedridden to manage it.
Aside from a few rare Frida Kahlo still life paintings of cut fruit, there is little in the artwork or photographs in this show to indicate the couple’s devotion to good food.
Yet somehow you leave the exhibit absolutely starving for Mexican food. While you might not find the huauzontles in green sauce or oyster soup of the couple’s wedding banquet, several area restaurants are offering special meals and drinks tied to the exhibit.
- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog