In reconsidering my chosen space, The Casa Azul in (Coyoacan, Mexico City), I realized that this space offers incredible grounds for interrogation about the nature of orientation and the tensions of ‘public’ and ‘private’ spaces. For this post, I want to use some ideas we discussed in Class 5 to explore Casa Azul and develop a deeper understanding of the ‘public/private’ nature of the space.
When considering Sara Ahmed’s ‘orientation’ in class, we discussed not only how we “find our way” but how we “feel at home”. We also defined the term “homing devices” as “ways of reorienting our relation to our homes, ways of returning home, ways of moving home” (Week 5 slides). The Casa Azul shows a number of very personal objects that I could imagine to have been homing devices to Kahlo and Rivera. The decor in each room of the museum is breathtaking; combining one-of-a-kind furniture pieces in traditional Mexican styles with original art works by Kahlo and Rivera. When I really think about it, objects with this level of intimacy being exposed for money after their deaths feels possibly a bit invasive or insensitive. The two were famous not only for their art but for their passionate and complicated marriage. It is interesting how this is depicted in the museum— objects in the space are catalogued by the current state of affairs in their marriage when they were acquired.
Above, the grounds of the Casa Azul, with a very professional sign (yeah we get it, it’s a museum).
I’m very interested in how this space is a public museum that showcases what was a private space. The space, which is by all means a reproduction of what it originally way (it was even renovated in 2009), definitely doesn’t come off as an authentic home. The set-up brings a lot of questions about ownership, privacy and power: Who decides what goes where? What is and what isn’t being shown, and who decides that? Who organizes the ropes that separate the visitors from the objects, designing our paths through the space? Can these items ever truly belong to anyone besides Frida and Diego?
I feel unsure about whether this space is even an authentic way of telling this couple’s story, or their ups and downs. I also am not sure why it is of public interest at all to know the exact details of what transpired between the two artists. In considering Gill Valentine’s description of a public space as something “privately owned, controlled and managed,” that have a number of “private” elements such as relationships and sexualities (263), I find it easy to critique this museum’s ethics. I am tempted to reject the “public” side of the space- the side that is presented to tourists and other visitors- and prefer to appreciate the space for it’s history as the shelter of two of my favourite artists from a far.
Above, Frida Kahlo’s personal objects- possible homing devices (photos by me).