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In the interest of full disclosure: I have been hopelessly enamored with the beautiful, communist, bisexual artist Frida Kahlo ever since I happened across — and was shaken to the core by — a print of her painting “Broken Column” (1944) in a Montreal art book shop back in 1979. I also wept uncontrollably when I saw the film “Frida” on a Europe-bound flight last month.

And so, this is going to be a terribly biased review of “Woman Surrealists in Mexico,” a newly opened exhibition at the Bunkamura Museum in Shibuya. The show features some 130 drawings, paintings and photographs by seven female Mexican artists active from the 1930s through the 1960s. Foremost among them is that remarkable woman, Frida Kahlo (1907-1954).

There are almost 30 Kahlo treasures here, by far the most ever assembled in Japan. They are mostly oil and canvas paintings, and among them are many of the head-tilted-to-the-left, flat and bold self-portraits that Kahlo is best known for. In some of the pictures, there are monkeys on Kahlo’s back — and this is because she kept monkeys in her home. In others, there are flowers and ribbons in her hair — and this is because Kahlo rejoiced in these traditional adornments. In one particularly poignant panel, “Moses,” a baby in a basket floats down a river, surrounded by images of Aztec gods and Jesus and Hitler and Marx and Gandhi — and this is because Kahlo had a miscarriage.

You see, Kahlo never accepted the title of “Surrealist” that Breton et al. conferred on her. She is famously quoted as saying, “They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.”

Kahlo’s reality was born of the agonizing pain that was her lifelong companion. Pain from the polio that struck her as a child and left her crippled. Pain from the horrific bus accident when she was 18, which caused some 20 fractures to her collarbone, ribs and leg; smashed her spinal column, pulverized her foot; and impaled her on a metal handrail, breaking her pelvis in three areas. Pain from the dozens of subsequent operations. Pain from two tempestuous marriages to philandering muralist Diego Rivera; pain from the amputation of her foot and then her leg. Pain which ultimately resulted in barbiturate and alcohol addiction. “I drank to drown my pain,” Kahlo once said, “but the damned pain learned how to swim.”

Kahlo’s art was her clear and enduring answer to this pain. After the bus accident she was not expected to live. But she did, and she learned how to walk, and she learned how to dance, and she learned how to paint.

And what paintings — the personal and uncompromising vision, the pre-Spanish Mexican iconography, the biblical and political references, the gender-transcending celebration of life. Go to this show, stand close to these canvases, and, as you contemplate Kahlo’s hand holding the brush that gave them their strong lines and stronger colors, let your eyes close, breathe in and rejoice.

There are six other artists represented in this exhibition. Kati Horna has contributed a series of monochrome photographs, in which multiple exposures and darkroom treatments create disorienting effects; while Lola Alvarez Bravo is also in with photographs, mostly portraits, many of Kahlo. There are a number of well-weighted still-lifes by Maria Izquierdo, while Alice Rahon has contributed the most abstract paintings in the show.

Aside from Kahlo, the best-known artists showing here are European-born war refugees Leonora Carrington of England and Remedios Varo of Spain, who fled Paris for Mexico in 1942. The painting styles of these two good friends are quite similar — they float wispy mystical figures in dreamlike environments inspired by ancient mythology, executed in powdery silvers and deep midnight blues, and occasionally accented with mother-of-pearl inlays. Just breathtaking.

It is a testimony to the depth of this Hiromi Sone-curated exhibition that it would be excellent even without the Kahlo paintings. Now, I warned you that this would be a terribly biased review, so maybe I don’t have to tell you that with the Kahlo paintings, this is quite possibly the best exhibition Tokyo has seen in years.

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