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  • Considering the Queer Disabled/Debilitated Body:An Introduction of Queer Cripping
  • Andrew R. Spieldenner (bio)

I am writing this from Mexico City where I have spent the day at the Museo del Frida Kahlo.1 In the first two rooms, the pieces that stick out to me are labeled "unfinished." In Frida Kahlo, Frida and the Cesarean (unfinished), the sketch centers a woman (Frida) and a fetus growing inside her. Next to her body is a faceless baby. She is surrounded by another woman and a man. In the upper corner, a surgical team works in a hospital setting. As I stand watching it, a man hovers behind me. His traveling companion asks what he is looking at, and he just whispers to her, "it's so powerful. It's deep." She murmurs agreement, and they turn to discuss in hushed tones what the unfinished work is doing to them.

The other is one of the artist's canonical self-portraits. The piece Self-Portrait, Detroit (unfinished) has pencil lines with the barest of coloring on the face. Frida's body is spectral, revealed in its creation as if it were under x-ray. The beauty lies in the unfinished parts: the sketch of the body, the imaginative possibilities in the unmapped space. The tease of Detroit is even less recognizable—there are hints of buildings behind the artist. I search for the city, for the surfaces that emerge from this apparition. I spend more time trying to find her and where she struggled than I do on her other finished pieces.

This unfinished state is intriguing. How often do we fail to finish a project or do not complete it on time? Why is an incomplete project considered a failure? Doesn't Frida's unfinished work still say something? What does it mean to be on time? Whose time? In my HIV advocacy work, I am challenged by schedules, meeting norms and communication styles that are not inclusive of most people living with HIV: who are overwhelmingly—in the United States—queer and [End Page 76] people of color, poor, and often dealing with mental health and/or substance use issues. This challenge of normative time is referred to as "crip time" where disability presents challenges to normative time frames. Alison Kafer offers that "[o]perating on crip time, then, might be not only about a slower speed of movement but also about ableist barriers over which one has little to no control."2 The regimes of normativity act on us and determine what we can do and how we live. We resist, both individually and as a community. We create spaces where our differences are deliberately politicized but we can still fall into normative ideas of professionalism and productivity. We are still learning to construct inclusive homes for our diverse communities.

The famed La Casa Azul still stands pretty much the same as it did when Kahlo was alive.3 It is intimate, and images of her famed life rise up in the imagination. The bedrooms remain neat and tidy, as if the homeowners are on their way back. The expansive kitchen inspires cooking, with space for two or three people to engage in different parts of a meal. The sunken sitting room is warm, you can almost hear people in heated dialogues about art and politics, nearly smell the tequila and vodka being spilled. Upstairs, the work rooms are densely filled with tools she used to make her art. Her bed still has her death mask lying on it. The crowd steadily pushing me forward leaves little time to savor these scattershot moments into her life and death.

The exhibit "Appearances Can Be Deceiving: The Dresses of Frida Kahlo" closes out the museum.4 Although the signs indicate that it will feature Frida's clothes, it begins with the structures underneath her clothing. Frida Kahlo is iconic as a figure in fashion and multiple identity movements: she deliberately constructed her image and identity through fashion choices and various girdles and riggings meant to consistently present her as a specific kind of able-bodied woman. The exoskeletal pieces are placed in the rooms before the display of her...


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