In Love Letters, The Artisan speaks with one senior from each arts area about an artist in their field who has been meaningful to them and their artistic practice. If you’re interested in participating in this series, you can express interest by sending a direct message to The Artisan’s Instagram account, @artisan_news.
We began our conversation with Frida Kahlo’s unibrow: a trait that has brought her both admiration and scorn. As a prominent feature of her face, it is also sometimes considered a prominent feature of Kahlo’s body of work, which includes a number of self-portraits exploring the many facets of her personal identity.
“It’s really interesting how, even in her paintings, she purposefully made her eyebrows darker and thicker to make them even more prominent,” said Britney Garibay, Visual Arts senior. “And she wore suits when they had that whole debate about women wearing that sort of clothing. And her art, of course, had such incredible subject matter. There are a lot of inspirational things about her…She was able to bring herself attention—one, as a woman, and two, as a Mexican in the American world during that time period.”
As we talked about Kahlo, the details took on a firmly biographical bent.
“I actually happen to really dislike her art style, even though I really like some aspects of her work,” Garibay said.
It’s the way Kahlo lived as much as it is the way she worked that takes on personal significance for Garibay.
“When, years ago, I first watched this documentary on her, I almost felt a sense of pride—being in the area where I was at, and watching it with all the rest of the people there, I still felt almost like she was talking to me specifically,” Garibay said. “And that’s kind of the same feeling I’d like people to feel when they see my art, like it’s someone who’s also Mexican or something…These are the things you don’t see every day, or things you rarely do see.”
“Honestly, there’s not that many Mexican artists that are well known. When I first started thinking about what my art was going to deliver or what the message would be, she was one of the first people that I looked to, and her husband, Diego Rivera.”
When Garibay entered her freshman year at Douglas Anderson, she hadn’t yet gained the self assurance that characterizes her now.
“I remember feeling kind of lost, coming from a middle school that had a predominantly Hispanic population—it was like 60 percent,” Garibay said. “Going to a 1 percent population with even less in my arts area almost made me scared because I felt like I wasn’t going to fit in…But that was one of my main inspirations when wanting to talk about Mexico.”
DA’s student demographics page on GreatSchools shows some growth in the school’s ethnic diversity over the last three years, but not so much as to make such concerns outdated. The school is listed as 62 percent white, 22 percent black, 9 percent Hispanic, 3 percent Asian, and 4 percent two or more races.
“I was initially scared about making art about Mexico because of political decisions, you know, because of people’s thoughts about Trump and illegal people,” Garibay said. “And I’m not going to call anyone out because that’s not right, but while I’ve been at DA there have been certain times when people have talked about Hispanics in a way that wasn’t enjoyable to hear for anyone, honestly, and it caused a fear in me that people would secretly judge me if I made art all about Mexico. But you should never have to hid where you’re from. You should always embrace it, or sooner or later you’re going to forget it. And that’s why, in my junior year, I dedicated all of my art to Mexico.”
Several of Garibay’s artworks have been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. Her work has been published inside Radx Magazine and appeared on the cover of Élan Literary Magazine. She’s been featured by Yas Mija’s Latinas on the Rise.
“I saw [Kahlo’s] art, which has such symbolism,” she said. “She had no fear of showing who she was, whether that meant culturally or as a person, and I think that is what’s needed when someone such as myself is trying to communicate a connection to a culture or an idea and make a personal statement.”
As my image of Kahlo became more and more characterized by her courage, her drive, and her fortitude, it became hard for me to not imagine Garibay’s character, to not remember all of the reasons I was so excited to speak with her. Just as Garibay described feeling as she watched Kahlo’s life play out in a documentary, I felt myself becoming a little bit rapt, sitting with my legs criss-crossed, water glass tightly in hand on one end of this afternoon Zoom call, holding onto each word she said and knowing each was true.
“You have to not be scared,” Garibay continued. “You have to do what no one else does. You have to go outside the box. And that’s what she did. And that’s what I’m trying to emulate in relation to her work.”