Would Frida Kahlo Call Donald Trump 'Chimp' & Hillary Clinton 'Bonobo'?

Chiara Scelsi Goes Romantic By Victor Demarchelier For Vogue Japan August 2016

This charming photo of model Chiara Scelsi with her friend always raises our sensitivity about using animals in fashion editorials. I doubt that PETA has any problem with dogs and cats but how about monkeys? 

Image credit:  The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of Mexican Art © 2016 Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust/ via The Conversation

Image credit:  The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of Mexican Art © 2016 Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust/ via The Conversation

Frida Kahlo, not only a famous painter but an ardent feminist and frequent topic of discussion at GLAMTRIBALE, was obsessed with monkeys. Eight of the large number of self-portraits Frida  painted in her short life (55 out of 181 paintings) feature spider monkeys.

The decision to include monkeys as her constant companions was not arbitrary. Frida kept monkeys as pets in the garden of the Blue House in Coyoacán. Her monkeys, she said, symbolized the children that she was never able to bear because of the horrific injuries she had suffered in a bus accident in 1925, which led to medical complications, an abortion and several miscarriages.
Frida was 36 when she completed this painting in 1943. She was in a more hopeful mood than she had been in the late 1930s when the affairs of her artist husband (the serial philanderer, Diego Rivera), and her own liaison with the Soviet revolutionary Leon Trotsky (exiled in Mexico between 1937-1940), had led to a divorce in 1939.

Monkeys were often featured in pre-Columbian art, and Frida Kahlo was always alert to symbols of pre-Hispanic art as a foundation for Mexican art. Among the Aztecs' world, monkeys were the gods (and goddesses?) of fertility. In this aspect, monkeys become a symbol of Kahlo's transgressive sexuality and also a maternal fecundity never realized. 

Chimps, Bonobos and 2016 Politics

Scientists don't agree about the evolution of spoken conversation among humans. But everyone agrees that gesturing is a prelude to talking. A new study confirms that while Earthlings may be the only species gifted with the ability to speak, bonobos and chimps use conversational cooperation.

Researchers from Max Planck‘s Institute for Ornithology and Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology studied the communicative gestures of mother-infant pairs in four communities: two of chimpanzee and two of bonobos living in the Salonga National Park and Luo Scientific Reserve in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Scientists studied mothers and babies because of the considerable research around communication between human mothers and their babies. Researchers concluded that "communicative exchanges in both species resemble cooperative turn-taking sequences in human conversation. In other words, the mothers and infants recognized the pair was engaged in a conversation, and each took turns to signal their thoughts or listen."

Clinton, Trump and Apes

Personally, I've always been passionate about bonobos and reading this research causes me to reflect on Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and the 2016 presidential election. The Atlantic summarizes my jumping off point in a March 2016 reflection Bonobos Just Want Everyone to Get Along.

In a lot of ways, we have more in common with chimpanzees than we do with bonobos. Both species of ape are considered humans’ genetically closest living relatives, but chimpanzees live in patriarchal societies, start wars with their neighbors, and, as a paper published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences put it, “do not take kindly to strangers.”
By contrast, bonobos, which form female-dominated societies, have no problem welcoming outsiders into the fold: They mate, share food, and readily form bonds with strangers. They’re also great at defusing conflicts before they escalate—when bonobos stumble upon a new feeding ground, for example, they tend to celebrate with group sex before eating, a habit researchers believe is meant to relieve tension that could otherwise translate into competition for food.

Now Trump probably likes the 'group sex' part of bonobo culture. Or at least he did in the Eighties. But to the extent that Trump and Clinton are polar opposites on issues of wall building, trade policies and immigration, there's no doubt that Donald Trump is the patriarchal society Chimp and Hillary 'it takes a village' Clinton is a matriarchal bonobo.

Ironically, Frida's painting was the banner image on Anne of Carversville until she was replaced by elephants. I may revisit this decision after reading more about the place of monkeys in Frida Kahlo's art and reflecting also around my love of bonobos. 

We know that Frida didn't have bonobos in her animal menagerie. These beloved apes are found only in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) between the Congo River, the Lomami River, the Kasai/Sankuru Rivers, and Lake Tumba/Lac Ndombe region. Bonobos can survive in close proximity to human communities that are willing to co-habitate with these peaceful apes.

A male visitor examines 'self-portrait with monkeys' 1938

A male visitor examines 'self-portrait with monkeys' 1938

Bonobos are by definition progressive Democrats and -- upon reflection -- perhaps the Democratic party should schedule a presentation on patriarchal chimps and matriarchal bonobos at the upcoming July presidential convention. With a prime time night presentation, the DNC could give the nation Mother Nature's best reasons for supporting Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.

Simply stated, bonobos rock and Frida Kahlo would have found the species to reaffirm her feminist beliefs around cooperative culture and our human roots in Africa. Coming out of Philadelphia and heading for November's presidential election, we must be sure that a bonobo rules. ~ Anne

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