• The Debutante

Guided by the Energy of past feminist-surrealists. Part II of Leah Clare Michaels' Mexico series

After having viewed Leonora Carrington's El Mundo Magico de los Mayas in the Anthropology Museum, Leah reflects on the chance encounters she experiences on her quest to find Remedios Varo's grave


Do you believe in energy?


After I returned home from the museum, I did a Tarot reading for myself and it was clear that something was shifting. This trip was not about art research as originally planned. Once I accepted that, I felt my whole body relax, and my heart space slowly opened to the mystery. Something else is happening and I decided I was going to let this mystery unfold and enjoy wandering around Mexico City for the next few days. If I couldn’t see their work, at least I could see where they lived and where they died.


In the morning, I found myself standing in San Jacinto Plaza on Saint Patrick’s Day bearing witness to the memorial of the San Patricios’, Irish Catholics who fought on behalf of Mexico during the Mexican-American War. As I read the names of the soldiers who died and walk around the plaza during El Bazaar Sabado, I meditate on time, on war, on dying for belief, on the afterlife, on the surreal. I watch people weave in and out of the stands in the open market corridors in the same place where souls passed onto the next life 171 years ago. Colorful tapestries are on display, along with traditional sculptures, and lovely crafts. After only a few days in Mexico, my Spanish is starting to move from memory back into my mouth. I purchase a street tamal and continue to wander.


El Bazaar Sabado

On the rooftop balcony of the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo House Studio Museum, I have a short moment to myself away from the other visitors. I see the bathtub where Frida may have been inspired to paint What the Water Gave Me. I peer into her bedroom, her kitchen, her entire house and I feel like I’m floating around the walls where her creative and complicated life unfolded with him, two houses with a bridge. The grand energy of their work is all over this place. But I mostly find myself falling in love with the minute details rather than the grandeur. After I descend the many stairs from the rooftop, I befriend a small sculpture in the garden and think about the works and the worlds that were created here. I wish I could see more of Frida’s work and I wonder if we can get to a point where we can move past the romanticization of problematic relationships and open to the door to seeing her in her wholeness.


La Casa Azul, Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera's home

In the taxi on the way to the Jardin Panteon, I speak with the driver in Spanish about Remedios Varo. When we arrive at the cemetery, I realize that I have no idea where her plot is located. Luckily, the attendant comes out and I ask him if he knows. At first he says there is no Remedios Varo here. But I was certain that this was the right place.


Ella esta aqui (She is here), I say.


He was kind enough to look up the records and found her exact location. I get back in the taxi and the attendant speaks with the driver to explain how to access that area of the cemetery. Ten minutes later, the driver and I are laughing because we are so lost and so confused. Soon the attendant meets us at the top of the hill, he must have noticed we were lost, and joins us in the taxi. The three of us search for her together and I am led to her grave by two kind strangers.

After taking some photos, the kind strangers wait for me while I take a moment to pay my respects. The marble headstone is a bit difficult to see but under her name it simply says “Pintora” (Painter). Hm, how simple, one word defines an entire monumental life. There is evidence of someone else’s visit, as a small sketch of one of her paintings has been left. I leave a note for her too and place it under the vines that are growing around her headstone. A grand tree is living on top of her, life after death, the connection between our two planes. I think about how hard it must have been for Leonora and Kati to lose her so early. As I slowly walk away from her, I meditate on my own friendships, and the importance of the support we give each other as we mourn, persevere, and create. It is only in looking back now that I see pieces of what these artists were trying to tell me...


The grave of Remedios Varo, Jardin Panteon

Leah Clare Michaels is a Baltimore native, writer, artist, activist, historian, and surfer.


She received a B.A. in History with a focus in Classics from the University of Washington in Seattle in 2012 and a M.F.A. in Intermedia and Digital Arts from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) in 2019. 


Leah was raised as a social Catholic feminist. Her work is informed by a historical research practice and rooted in the space where social justice, art, and travel intersect. Leah's work is multidisciplinary; encompassing the mediums of Video/Film, Photography, Printmaking, Performance, Installation, Writing, and Fabrication.

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surrealistwomen@gmail.com

Edinburgh, Scotland.

Background collage: Ailsa Sutcliffe.