What Does Frida Plus Julius the Monkey Equal?

The official Facebook page of cartoonist/artist/fashion designer Paul Frank quizzed faithful fans by asking “Who am I?” after posting a new Polaroid-style image. The clues were obvious–the floral crown, the unibrow no one else could really pull off . . . superimposed on the familiar image of Julius the Monkey. It could only be the latest manifestation of the iconic Mexican painter Frida Kahlo in pop art, as most fans guessed correctly, in Costa Mesa-based Paul Frank Industries' contribution to the seemingly never-ending Frida phenomenon.


Julius the Monkey, created by Frank in the mid-'90s around the same time he co-founded the apparel-and-accessories firm, has been a ubiquitous staple of T-shirts, tote bags and jewelry. Kahlo has similarly been a familiar sight, arguably even much more so, on apparel and other such wares. The two came together as the new bilingual Mi Cultura Is 2 Cultura blog recently stumbled upon the Julius-Kahlo “lovechild” image on a sheet of stickers sold at a Target store earlier this month and added up the melding in a simple visual equation:

The Mexican-plus-monkey equation is much more than simple consumption of recognizable imagery. Kahlo, the person and the artist, was ever-drawn to primates and included them in a number of artistic self-portraits. “As it happens with Frida, people look at her paintings and the iconic imagery and create a visual discourse based on elaborate theories,” acclaimed art lecturer Gregorio Luke says.

“The monkey is a symbol of sex and becomes her alter-ego.” But as the former director of the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach notes, symbolism in Kahlo's paintings were simply reflective of her everyday life. “It is also true that Frida lived around many monkeys, had them as pets and even gave them names,” he says. “That was her reality.”

Speaking of her political reality as an early-20th-century Communist thinker, what might explain the “Frida phenomenon” in the United States–or, as she referred to it, Gringolandia? “I think the fascination is easy to understand,” Luke says. “She is the mestizaje ideal. Her father was German/Hungarian/Jewish, and her mother was very indigenous. The U.S. is becoming a multiracial society, and many people find different things about her that they can identify with.

“That's the secret of her attractiveness.”

Gabriel San Román is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and the tallest Mexican in OC. He also once stood falsely accused of writing articles on Turkish politics in exchange for free food from DönerG’s!

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