Pencil in That Uni-Brow Because It's Time for Frida Festival 2016

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What's not to love about Frida Kahlo de Rivera? Both feminine (wore flowers in her hair) and masculine (dressed like a man; smoked cigars), this temperamental Mexican artist channeled her personal pain to produce surrealist folk art, often in the form of self-portraits, and received more fame after death than during her life, although her affair with Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky did cause quite a stir. East End Studio Gallery celebrates this colorful artist in its 11th annual Frida Festival with art, music, vendors and – not one, but two – Frida lookalike contests.

It's a fairly easy costume to pull off: Pencil in a uni-brow and a lady mustache, pile braids on top of your head and weave in a few flowers from the garden, then place a pet monkey on your shoulder. Over the years, the contest became a little too popular and things soon came to a head.

“Every year we would get lots of different children. They would usurp the adults,” says Lizbeth Ortiz, gallery curator and artist. Now the organizers hold the contest for adults on opening night and the contest for children at the festival's closing. She says it's a fun and informal event and that the audience members serve as the judges.

Art entries for the annual festival are selected by Ortiz and co-curator Iris Contreras and include sculpture, paintings, drawings, poetry, artwork from schools and even a performance or two. “There’s a lot of paintings and drawings and pictures of her, but there’s also pieces inspired by her work or her life or expressing her,” says Ortiz. The artists often draw from their own traumatic experiences or incorporate imagery from her work, like the Sacred Heart. Ortiz feels that if Kahlo were able to view the art today, she would probably admire and collect a few of the pieces. They are all inspired by the artist, although sometimes the curators have to “dig a little more” to find the thread. “You can definitely tell when it has that essence, [when] it does have the connection.”

Ortiz says that it's an art show, but that they really want to make it a celebration of her life and an opportunity for people to learn about Kahlo. "We would love for people to love her. We love her; it’s so nice to have an inspiration. Being a Latina artist myself, I found out about her in high school and I was blown away.” She says that finding a role model who is not the picture of perfection is refreshing and serves as inspiration for growth.

There's an all-hands-on-deck mentality at this community-based, nonprofit organization, and Ortiz credits Blue 130 (contributing curator), Cynthia Vela (vendor coordinator), Alex Barber (photographer) and DJ Twinkle-Toes for keeping the event exciting for everybody.

“Twinkle-Toes is our resident DJ, who also is our visual artist. He has a wonderful mixture of contemporary songs of her day. He’ll play anything from a Mexican trio to some pop music. It’s a little bit of something for everyone, and it really gets the crowd moving,” says Ortiz. “We want people to have a good time.” They sometimes have a taco truck come out and they do drinks by donations, and they also offer unique handmade objects that are affordable.

Frida Festival 2016 is Friday, April 8 at 8 p.m. (adult lookalike contest) and Friday, April 22 at 7:30 p.m. (children's lookalike contest). The gallery is open by appointment only, April 9-22. East End Studio Gallery, 708 Telephone, eestudiogallery@gmail.com, fridafestival.com. Free.

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