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REVIEW: Immersive Frida Kahlo at Lighthouse Immersive

/By / Mar 31, 2022

Perhaps it’s appropriate that I feel torn between two worlds.

After all, Frida Kahlo herself was a woman conflicted. She gained popularity as an artist despite being unwilling to adhere to commission requests; she was full of life and vision and yet plagued by near-constant pain and health issues. Even her art tended towards conflict, using images of mysticism and fantasy to depict deeply personal human experiences.

Lighthouse Immersive’s latest venture, Immersive Frida Kahlo, knows what it’s presenting to its audiences — an experience. Is that experience authentic to Kahlo, her culture, her story? That’s not really for me to say. The final chapter in a trilogy of exhibitions exploring famed revolutionary artists, Immersive Frida Kahlo is perhaps Lighthouse’s most personal exhibition; so personal, in fact, that it is Frida’s grandniece, Mara Kahlo, and great-grandniece, Maria De Anda, who introduced the show’s premiere. Fundación Familia Kahlo provided the experience with family photos and archival footage to supplement the display, highlighting Frida’s personal life alongside her art.

I attended the show’s preview, complete with opening remarks, VIP gift bags, and free food and drinks. A mariachi band played in the centre of the room, providing a light and exciting ambiance in the crowded space. Snacks and finger foods came in the form of elote, various salsas, guacamole, and beef tacos; a churro station occupied 90% of my thoughts. The flower arrangements were sparse but colourful, and purple and blue lights lit up the space, creating an environment not unlike the world’s friendliest nightclub. 

Perhaps I expected a more deliberate attempt at authenticity upon entering this experience. When I first saw the signature cocktails were sangria and mojitos, for instance, my heart sank slightly — neither the popular Spanish beverage nor the Cuban classic feel even remotely related to the life and experiences of Frida Kahlo. It felt like a missed opportunity for full immersion in Kahlo’s world.

These Lighthouse Immersive exhibits are exactly as advertised: a tapestry of sound and image, woven together and projected on all sides, as well as the floor and ceiling. Mirrored structures throughout the room reflect images, but mostly the crowd; no matter where you look, you see a new piece of the puzzle emerging, a visual landscape enhanced by a backdrop of booming music.

Patrons take in the preview of Immersive Frida Kahlo, presented by Lighthouse Immersive. Photo by Kiana Woo.

If you’ve seen Immersive Klimt or Immersive Van Gogh, you’ll already know that Lighthouse’s experiences are not all the same. Immersive Frida Kahlo interweaves family photos, archival footage of the Mexican revolution, and communist symbols and propaganda with Kahlo’s art. Some moments stand out; vines and flowers climb the walls and bloom as the monkey and panther from Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird peek out towards the audience. In Roots, greenery moves down the walls and onto the floor as Kahlo stares into the crowd. The entire audience audibly gasped and cameras flashed as the Wounded Deer turned its head and moved deeper into the forest.

Aside from the order in which the paintings are incorporated into the display, the show doesn’t tell a specific story, and the absence of text and narration makes it almost impossible to learn anything new; the music and projection convey moods more than moments. That being said, when I wasn’t scribbling notes, I found myself lost in the soundscape and lights, only briefly jolted back to reality by the occasional bout of vertigo brought on by more movement-heavy sequences. I completely forgot about my decidedly inauthentic mojito until I almost dropped it.

Is the show perfect? Definitely not — I wouldn’t say I learned anything new about Kahlo from the exhibit.  But at the end of the day, these immersive experiences don’t seem to be about teaching some great lesson or providing audiences with an in-depth summary of the life, loves, and tragedies of Frida Kahlo. They’re simply about providing audiences with a new perspective — a low-stakes, approachable method of considering and enjoying art. Not everyone enjoys going to a gallery, or researching the history and context of artistic accomplishments, nor should they have to in order to appreciate art and its artists. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Immersive Frida Kahlo is “de-mystifying the art world,” or even the woman herself, it provides what it promises: an experience.

I had a nice time, and for a brief moment, I forgot the outside world. And in the end, isn’t that what we want from art? To be transported, or, dare I say, immersed?

While it might not be a show for major art fans looking to elevate their understanding of Frida Kahlo’s body of work, Immersive Frida Kahlo makes for an enjoyable way to spend the evening. If you’re looking for a new way to experience art, or simply need an evening to lose yourself in beautiful images, it may be exactly what you’re looking for.

Immersive Frida Kahlo is playing at 1 Yonge St. For more information, click here.

Jessica Watson

Jessica Watson

Jessica is a former associate editor at Intermission, as well as a writer, classically-trained actor, and plant enthusiast. Since graduating from LAMDA in the UK with her MA in acting, you can often find her writing screenplays and short plays in the park, writing extensive lists of plant care tips, or working on stage and screen (though she uses a stage name). Jessica freelances with various companies across Canada, but her passion lies in working with theatre artists and enthusiasts.



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