Sacramento gallery celebrates return with Kahlo exhibition, contest

Bridgett Rangel-Rexford and Lauren Rangel stepped into La Raza Galeria Posada on Saturday afternoon with their hair braided and pinned up, lips painted red and handmade costumes in tow. The sisters were preparing to compete in the first Frida Kahlo look-alike contest in Sacramento.

The contest kicked off the Galeria’s first exhibition in more than three years, “Bound by Love: Homenaje a Frida Kahlo,” which celebrates the 20th-century Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, known for her self-portraits and troubled marriage to muralist Diego Rivera.

But the day proved to be more than mere costume play.

Forty-eight-year-old America Martinez, whose son had died at age 21, said she related to the Mexican painter’s pain, provoked by a disabling car accident and unrequited love.

“Even though I’ve lived through some horrible things … you can make the best of it,” Martinez said. “That’s what Frida did.”

Together with her friend John Ochoa, 58, who came dressed as Rivera, Martinez won the couples category. The contest pair impressed the judges with their props’ accuracy, from the cigarettes between their fingers to Martinez’s dog, which bore a strong resemblance to Frida’s.

The Rangel sisters won the adult Frida category with their creativity in entering as a pair, like “two hearts, but one Frida.” Like Kahlo, they each hand-painted their own art on their dresses.

Though she couldn’t call herself a big fan of Kahlo, Rangel, 20, said the artist felt “real” to her.

“(Kahlo) is a front-runner for women artists, Mexican artists and women artists in general,” said Rangel-Rexford, a 25-year-old with a major in art history.

Kahlo’s feminist appeal was evident in the predominantly female crowd of about 100 artists, activists and Frida fans, some as young as 3 years old.

It was most obvious in the exhibition, which featured 26 pieces by seven female artists, all of whose artworks were tied together by their interpretation of what it means to be a woman. Fourteen paintings belonged to Martha Rodriguez, the exhibition’s main featured artist.

Much like the show’s namesake, Rodriguez also pursued her passion for painting after she fell ill. During their recovery – Kahlo from a car accident and Rodriguez from leukemia – both had little experience when they picked up their brushes. Visitors at the Galeria’s exhibition described Rodriguez’s style as “primitivist” and “untrained,” just like Kahlo’s.

The Galeria’s director, Marie Acosta, said featuring Rodriguez’s work was an appropriate, though unplanned, move that complemented the reopening of the Galeria to the public at its new Front Street location.

“It’s almost like a rebirth for the organization,” she said.

Due to a tight budget, the nonprofit organization was forced to move from its midtown venue and cancel all exhibitions indefinitely after March 2011.

Since then, a $1,200 renovation and hours of volunteer work went into turning what once was a Department of Parks and Recreation maintenance building to the Galeria’s new space.

For years, Acosta said, she had been “fried on Frida,” having come from San Francisco, a city saturated with Kahlo memorial events, but was reinspired after a visit to Kahlo’s childhood home, known as La Casa Azul, or “The Blue House.”

Although the organization is not planning another Kahlo-centered exhibition any time soon, it is embarking on a project to paint the Galeria’s building “Frida Kahlo” blue, a reminder of the artist’s legacy in Sacramento.