Inspiring Latina: Art Historian Adriana Zavala Dishes On Her New York City Frida Kahlo Exhibit

Inspiring Latina: Art Historian & Professor Adriana Zavala Dishes On Her New York City Frida Kahlo Exhibit
Adriana Zavala

Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life, the first solo presentation of Frida Kahlo's work in New York City in more than 10 years, focuses on an unusual and oft-overlooked passion of the Mexican artist: nature. On display at The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, the plant and art exhibit celebrates Kahlo's communion with nature and admiration of the botanical world, a passion that often spread to her work.

"Kahlo created about 250 works during the course of her career," Mexican-born art historian Adriana Zavala told us. "This is actually a fairly low number. Approximately one-third demonstrate imagery from the natural world, and I believe that she used flora and fauna both to express her love of Mexico [and] to explore themes that were important to her and important at the time."

Zavala, an associate professor at Tufts University, curated the art portion of the exhibit — a set of 14 works, many borrowed from private collectors. Featured in The LuEsther T. Mertz Library's Art Gallery Exhibition, the pieces highlight Kahlo's use of botanical imagery in her work, and are presented alongside a garden exhibition in the Haupt Conservatory, which features a vivid evocation of Kahlo's garden at her home in Mexico City, La Casa Azul.

We chatted with Zavala to get the details on the exhibit and to learn more about her work in the field of Mexican art history. Read it all below:

PLUS: Take A Peek Inside Frida Kahlo's Closet

How did you grow so involved in the world of Mexican art? 

I earned my PhD at Brown University in Latin American Art History in 2001, and my particular area of focus in 20th century Mexican painting, photography and film. I was born in Mexico City, but raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. My interest in art history grew as an undergraduate student, and then I decided to pursue a PhD with the goal of becoming a university professor. I realized it made sense to specialize in Mexican art, so [I could] be an ambassador for Mexican art and culture in this country.

What inspired you to pursue a career in art? 

To clarify, I have not pursued a career in art. That implies making art. I am an art historian. I have always loved art and history and my approach is to understand history and culture through the visual images that artists create and how they explore themes like history, identity, gender, race, politics, conflict, and cultural unity through visual means.

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