You might not realize it, but late painter Frida Kahlo’s influence in hip-hop culture is very real, today, as we’ve seen with artists like FKA twigs, and more recently Rihanna, who looked eerily similar to Frida, on the cover art of her latest single. A Frida Kahlo Study is a collaborative effort between Toneisha Renee and photographer Magnus Juliano, aimed at recreating Frida’s work in way that we haven’t seen before. Shot entirely with film, AFKS, makes sure to capture the raw emotion that Frida Kahlo was most known for, in addition to “exploring the many dimensions of an artists’ metamorphosis”.
If you dig those photos you just saw (and you do), keep reading, as I caught up with Toniesha to discuss this project, Frida Kahlo, and so much more. This is definitely one of the more in-depth interviews you’ll read about such an amazing body of work.
Let’s start here. Where was this project shot and over how long of a period of time?
The project was shot in multiple of areas in Columbus, Ohio; the majority being on the east side, where my photographer and I are from. It took about two weeks to complete the story.
Frida Kahlo was a pretty influential figure. Still is. As the subject of this shoot, were there any challenges you faced trying to capture her essence and what she was about?
Well the greatest challenge I feel was not to capture Frida in her persona, but what Frida felt. I feel we as ‘popular-culture-junkies’ get caught up in lifestyle versus raw emotion. So I wanted to translate Frida’s frustration with pain and equal rights while embracing her passion for love and complexity of thought.
You and Frida are from two different time periods, clearly. Was it difficult taking elements from her time and merging them with the elements of yours?
We wanted to capture the modern representation of Frida, so there were elements that have a more metaphorical sense rather than an exact mimic to her time period. The greatest change would have to be technology. However, some of the issues Frida dealt with are still topics in today’s society.
There are a couple of shots from this shoot that really intrigued me. As the subject, I’d like you to take me through them…
Ok, the first one. You’re like lying on the ground, and there are three guys in wheelchairs over around you. What was going on there?
Well the men in wheelchairs may seem a little random, but not to forget Frida was bed ridden for the majority of her career. Lying down in front of them was a metaphorical play on technology. How advanced we’ve become and where we started. We also wanted to provoke thought on how life for her would have been easier had she been a part of our generation due to these advancements. Frida’s paintings were very dark at times; so we wanted to have shots that reflect the sorrow and seriousness of her work.
What about the one where you’re in a shopping cart, holding what looks to be a fish? It’s a crazy, kind of eerie shot.
The shopping cart was our take on the lack of resources and fresh produce. Most cities are just now gaining access to fresher goods, however there is still a lack thereof. These, we know as food deserts. She was placed in a shopping cart covered in a black veil to symbolize mourning. The frozen barracuda was meant to symbolize the reaping.
My hands down, favorite shot has to be where you’re holding the flowers, with the floral dress on, while being surrounded by flowers. What message was being sent in that one?
Frida always seemed to be affiliated with flowers, and we wanted to portray growth. “The rose that grew from the concrete”. Her stance mimics that of what you may see from Mother Mary on a prayer candle, and all of which was organic.
Frida Kahlo once stated that she never painted dreams; only her reality. Was this shoot closer to your dreams or your reality. Why?
It was literally in between both; I would call it sleep paralysis. We were bringing a dream/vision into the world, while everyone was still actively carrying out their daily routines. We meshed the energy of our thoughts with those of realism and acted on them. We see these streets daily but these streets never see our dreams. It feels like they finally had a chance to meet.
No pun intended, but Magnus Juliano snapped on this project. What was it like working with him?
Working with Magnus was nothing but pure fun. He pushed me to my limit and got me out of my comfort zone and for that I’m thankful. He is an amazing artist with great vision. One of my favorites for sure.
He mentioned your presence in an evolving art community. What do you say to that, in regards to your role in keeping the culture alive?
I feel that it is my duty to keep the culture honest on the growing platform I do have. I still have a while to impact in the way I intend to, but for now I need to inspire people to stay true to themselves and be innovative. I feel that’s key for any successful creative. We don’t want to lose integrity in what may seem as a fad nowadays. I want people to challenge themselves on getting better at their craft and partake in healthy competition.
You kinda do it all. From, of course, your work with Ohio Against The World, to being a stylist, to being the subject of crazy photo spreads. What’s next for Toniesha Renee?
Whatever God has for me, to be honest. But I plan going out the country in the next few months, as well as going back to school to continue my education. So I guess what’s next for me is just improving myself spirituality, mentally and physically. I remember seeing Brick Owens tweet “I’m just looking for spiritual enlightenment and hope money finds me along the way”. That’s the best way I can describe what’s next for me. Just remembering to take time to fucking live.
For more, be sure to visit AFridaKahloStudy.com
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