Nahui Olin (Carmen Mondragon): Artist and Muse
I first became interested in Nahui Olin about seven years ago when I encountered her work in an announcement of an exhibition at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago. The group show was composed of works by Frida Kahlo and her contemporaries who were women making art in Mexico City in the 1920’s and 1930’s.
Like Kahlo, Olin used her art to communicate her lived experiences. She painted self portraits and also documented her life with her family and in her community as she experienced it. Nahui was also a woman whose behaviors may be considered to be exceptional or unusual, or even to evidence symptoms of mental illness. As an adult woman living in Mexico City at that time, eccentricities may have also conformed to a non-conformist bohemian culture where women pushed boundaries related to gender roles, gender identity, and sexual orientation and expressed nascent feminist inclinations.
Alternately, her childhood history of nudist practices (enjoying nude horseback riding as a child) and later working as a nude model for fine art photographers, her passion for the sensual and for highly emotional expressions, might have lead a “modern” clinician to offer a diagnosis: perhaps histrionic personality disorder or bipolar disorder. Her mastery of the use of metaphor and the form of the poem as a young child and her rapid acquisition of the French language when her family lived there during her primary school years would qualify her as intellectually gifted.
For Olin, drawing, painting, and poetry offered an opportunity for self expression. She published an autobiography including drawn self portraits when she was only ten years old. As we consider her art and how she used it to depict and express the experiences of her life, a question of “disorder or not” is not important.
That she used words in poems, photographic compositions of her body made before the camera lens, and drawn and painted representations to express her lived experiences is what is significant.
Although she spent the last years of her life alone and only in the company of her pet cats, she taught art each day in a neighborhood children’s school.
Most of Olin’s artwork is owned by private collectors. In my research, I have found that one piece is held by the Frida Kahlo Museum, and one by the Diego Rivera Museum. I hope that we will be able to view examples of Olin’s work during our visits to these museums during our Workshop in Mexico City.
Looking forward to our Multimodal Expressive Arts in Mexico City Workshop! If you have not already joined us, there is still space to Register. All of the information is at our website and blog:
Here, I share links about Olin’s work and her life. Below is an image of her biography researched and written by Adriana Malvido. If you read Spanish, I highly recommend it. Even if not, there are many beautiful historical photographs and images of Olin’s artwork. Till Mexico City…..Wendy and Marco
P.S. Please share with friends and colleagues! We still have spaces available if someone would like to join us.