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AGO's Frida Kahlo unibrow self-portrait booths irk some visitors

The Art Gallery of Ontario is defending its photo booths that take Frida Kahl0-inspired self-portraits of people wearing fake unibrows after pushback from a few gallery-goers who say it was disrespectful.

The AGO set up the booths on Friday and Saturday to draw attention to its new Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics and Painting exhibition. Passersby art enthusiasts and philistines alike were asked to put on the thick, black, worm-like unibrow, take a picture and get 50 per cent off admission to the exhibition for Oct. 27.

Some weren't happy with the marketing initiative, with a few people posting their disagreement on Facebook and Twitter.

I'm not opposed to everyone having fun, it's just that when I opened it and saw it I was kind of shocked," interior designer and part-time artist Patricia de Liberato told Metro. She had spoken out against the move on the AGO's Facebook page. "I just thought it was in terribly poor taste."

De Liberato said she felt it made light of Kahlo's importance as a woman and artist. The unibrow used in the booths is much thicker and uglier than Kahlo's, she added.

AGO marketing director Steve Rayment said the unibrow issue was well-researched and done out of respect for Kahlo¹s unique beauty.

"One of the things we understood is she was quite proud of her appearance, she never shied away from it," he said. "We have a quote from her own journal, she wrote, "of my face, I like my eyebrows and eyes."

The photo booths were meant to introduce younger adults to the art gallery and the Frida & Diego exhibition, he said.

"It's similar to Salvador Dali's iconic moustache we wouldn't shy away from using that either," said Rayment. "It's in no way disrespectful. We're the Art Gallery of Ontario, we cherish artists and we understood from our knowledge of the artist that she embraced her physical look and we could do so too without any disrespect."

Frida Kahlo. Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair. 1940. Oil on canvas, 15 3/4 x 11" (40 x 27.9 cm). Provided by the Art Gallery of Ontario

Curator: Kahlo painted her famed unibrow with humour

The curator of the AGO’s Frida & Diego exhibition says Kahlo painted herself in portraits with a pronounced unibrow as a sign of her love of life and sense of humour.

“In fact, Frida Kahlo didn’t have eyebrows that meet in the middle,” said curator Dot Tuer. “In some of her self-portraits, she accentuates this feature as part of a larger artistic strategy Kahlo employs to create a striking persona for herself.”

Kahlo’s persona includes her wearing indigenous dress, surrounding herself with exotic animals and wearing elaborate jewellery.

“She had a great sense of humour, a great love of life, so the unibrow is supposed to be funny,” said Tuer.

Tuer said Frida was beautiful, but not in the classical sense. “She was striking. She was beautiful in the sense that she created beauty through her paintings, and the way she adorned herself and the way she dressed,” she said.

Frida would accentuate her masculine characteristics, such as her eyebrows and facial hair, in her in self-portraits and combine them with more feminine things, which has made her beloved by many in the feminist and LGBT communities, said Tuer.

Tuer urges gallery-goers to look beyond the unibrows and consider the complex relationship between Frida and her painter husband Diego Rivera—their divorce after he slept with her sister and subsequent remarriage as well as their shared passion for revolutionary Mexico and each other’s art.

“The reality is Frida would be nothing without Rivera,” said Tuer. “They were soul mates.”

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