Monday, March 3, 2014

Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo was most known for her post-modernistic and surrealist style of work. Born on July 6, 1906 in Coyacan, Mexico, she became one of the most influential artist through portraying her personal sufferings as a woman and through her many medical problems throughout her life. She showcases these aspects of her life through multiple self-portraits, that showcase type of clothes she wears--representing her Mexican heritage--and her body, to depict the pain she endured from her medical complications. However, she is most known for using anatomical references when depicting her pain and suffering.

Though she is the main character in many of these paintings, according to Jorge Conteras, curator from The Museum of Contemporary Art in Monterrey, while she is the main character, she tried to make the subject appear distant in order for the audience to dig into soul. This way, the audience can find the numerous emotions Kahlo reveals, both conscious and unconscious about her experiences. These emotions include an sufferings of anger and sufferings of traumas.

It was not until 1938 that she had her first one-woman exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery on February 14. Before then, she first became famous through her marriage with muralist Diego Rivera. An article came out in the Boston Evening on 22 October, 1930 that stated she was an artist too because she was dressed as a stereotypical Mexican artist, with "Aztec beads," and a "rebozo" or traditional Mexican shawl. Ever since then, she became known as the artist alongside Rivera.

Most of the paintings and sketches I found were from the two books called "Frida," which was just a compilation of works from her exhibition in The Museum of Contemporary Art in Monterrey, and a biography by Gannit Ankon called "Frida Kahlo." Also, the background information on all of the pieces came from the biography as well as some online resources.

Her most famous piece is called The Broken Column from 1944. This is the piece that inspired me to rite about her because I learned that Kahlo and I have a lot in common. We both had a major a spine surgery in our lives to overcome, and we both use art to represent our pain we felt from it.

The Broken Column shows Kahlo in a stoic pose, yet at the same time shedding tears. This pain is referred to as a "distance pain." She tries to keep her dignity and pride, but at the same time exposes her vulnerability. Her metal rod is exposed for the world to see, her back-brace exposes her whole body and the pins represent the type of pain she constantly feels every since the accident. Because the self-portrait is so realistic and Kahlo is looking directly at the audience, the audience is forced to witness the agony Kahlo suffered through here on out after the accident. Her body language is also known as to be "sensual" in order to mask the pain she had and hide her vulnerability. Though she tried to regain her pride, she was not the same afterward.

The Broken Column, Frida Kahlo, 1944

A year after her accident, she drew a quick sketch or study drawing describing the actual events. She inscribed on the stretcher, she wrote, "Cruz Roja" meaning the Red Cross ambulance came to pick her up. The drawing showcases an aspect of symmetry where the top half of the drawing recollects the events that occurred in the collision, and the bottom half represents Kahlo's own perspective on the events, her subjective side. The top half of the sketch is rough and fast pace much like the collision itself. The bottom half with the figure of Frida Kahlo shows her wrapped up completely, with more defined lines (Ankori, 51-53). The reason for the more defined lines was to show how the accident affected someone individually. Again, this was a very powerful sketch to me because the style of the sketch is very raw and expressive; I could tell that even after a year, she was still traumatized by the events considering she is able to remember the events so vividly.

El Accidente, Frida Kahlo, 1926

When flipping through the biography of Frida Kahlo, I noticed two sketches that were drawn in 1953 about a year before her death. They were sketches from her drawings about her memories from when she had polio when she was six years old. What I find interesting is that she felt this deformity defined who she was as a person (Ankori 51-53).

FThe first sketch represented the legs she wished she had. Her comment she wrote at the bottom moved me and says a lot about how much she wishes life was normal for her: “Pies para que los quiero. Si tengo alas pa’ volar,” which means "Legs that I want. If I had wings, I would fly." Second one represented the two supports she needs to walk; the ones she already had, and the prosthesis she needs to get around.
In comparison, when looking at her, painting Remembrance of an Open Wound from 1938, she physically describes how much pain and trauma see had, especially since she can vividly describe the pain she felt from the polio, and how much her leg was disfigured. It is obvious here then that she “never truly got over the experience.” It is apparent here that her left leg is the more deformed one, and the one that was affected by the polio.

Study Drawing of Remembrance of an Open Wound
  Remembrance of an Open Wound, Frida Kahlo,1938
klFrida's relationship with Diego Rivera also impacted many of her works. I was really surprised to find out that the cause for Kahlo's miscarriage in 1932 was not because of natural causes, but of her desire to please her husband and fear that he would leaver her if she had a child. Also, the fear of all of her medical experiences where her body failed her played a factor into her decision to receive an abortion.

The painting Henry Ford Hospital saddened me because it represented the whole process of her miscarriage and how she suffered, again, both emotionally and physically from it as she lost a lot of blood. She had the miscarriage at Henry Ford Hospital and she felt she was saved from death because she went to that hospital in Detroit (Ankori Chapter 5).The bright, bold colors do help emphasize each of the six aspects that she felt were important in terms of what happened during the miscarriage. For instance, the snail represented how slow the process was, the plastic representation of a woman's insides represented Kahlo's reproductive area and how it failed her, or rather she failed it. The fetus obviously represents the unborn baby, the black  machine represents the "mechanical aspect" of the process and the pelvis represents her weak pelvis from the accident and how it may not have withheld the birth  (Mogarty). Unfortunately I was not able to find the meaning behind the orchid, but perhaps it could mean the beauty that could have been from the birth of her child, and how it was lost.

Henry Ford Hospital, Frida Kahlo, 1932; oil on metal      

Though Kahlo's work at times can seem a bit disturbing, for me they are very powerful because she has the courage to document her sufferings through artwork. By doing that, she is putting her life story out there for the world to view and judge. It is a shame though that she had to spend most of her life with medical problems and pain, but I for one can relate with her. Having had two spine surgeries and a leg surgery myself, art has been my way to express my pain and suffering, just like Frida Kahlo.

Hogarty, Sarah B. "FRAME|WORK: El Aborto (Frida and the Miscarriage) by Frida Kahlo." De Young Museum. Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, 22 June 2011. Web. 03 Mar. 2014. <>.

 Annotater. Woodcock, John A. "Literature, Arts, and Medicine Database." Henry Ford Hospital. New York University, 13 Aug. 2002. Web. 03 Mar. 2014. <>.

 "The Broken Column 1944 by Frida Kahlo." Frida Kahlo: Paintings, Biographies, Quotes. N.p., 2011. Web. 03 Mar. 2014. <>.

 Ankori, Gannit. Frida Kahlo. London: Reaktion, 2013. Print.

 Artist. Kahlo, Frida. Frida. Comp. Jorge Contreras, González Parás José Natividad, Othón Ruiz Montemayor, and Nina Zambrano. Monterrey, México: Museo De Arte Contemporáneo De Monterrey, MARCO, 2007. Print.


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