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Rakhee Balaram Click here to Print this Page
Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen

Conceived in conjunction with an exhibition that Wollen co-curated at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, Frida Kahlo and Tina Modotti raises questions of political marginality and third world politics situated in Mexico where the artists worked. Each artist worked under the shadow of more influential partners: Kahlo with Diego Rivera and Modotti with Edward Weston. Deliberately choppy, each section focuses on the biography and work of each artist (paintings and photographs) in a series of individual parallels and counterpoints designed to highlight larger political questions. The feminist Anglo-American slogan of the private becoming the political and the political becoming private is evoked conceptually in the placement of their work as a series of contrasts and convergences in an equation of self-reflexivity and feminist re-appropriation.

The film focuses on the politicizing and aestheticizing of the innate corporeal suffering in Kahlo's paintings in contrast with the lucid geometry that heightened the beauty of Modotti's photographed subject. In each case, the manipulation of the medium by the artist is evaluated both for personal as well as revolutionary goals. Their 'high' art medium (or what Mulvey and Wollen term their 'dialect' of that language) also carries representations of peasant and folk culture signifying a solidarity in image and representation along class lines that is not exploitative or oppressive in terms of 'feminist and revolutionary' politics. As the film points out, Kahlo uses herself as the subject of her interior world while Modotti looks at the lives of people and uses the external world to shape her practice. Mulvey and Wollen focus on the renaissance of art and the persistence and regeneration of third world politics in a feminist context or, in other words, the production of the private and political in the hands of women.

In each of these films the feminine confronts history and myth, Mulvey and Wollen experiment with technical and narrative techniques while informed by feminist and avant-garde thought and enlightened social possibilities. Made for a 1970s and early 1980s audience at the height of 16 mm and bolstered by funding opportunities made available by the British Film Institute, the economic and intellectual possibilities were for a brief moment limitless. The results of a restless and questioning idealism are shown in these films, what Wollen fearlessly coined "the space between a story which was never told and history which has never been made."

Rakhee Balaram is a writer and literary critic soon to complete a second doctorate in art history. She works in Paris and New York City.

Rakhee Balaram
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