• Erika Argiolas

ART AND SUFFERING: FRIDA KAHLO

1. LIFE

It was September 17th, 1925, when Frida at the age of 18 was the victim of an accident - caused by a tram that crashed into the bus she was traveling on - which changed her life forever. She was forced to a very long hospitalization and to wear a very uncomfortable bust and having to endure over thirty surgeries. In short, an existence marked by suffering.

However, this did not stop Frida, who - despite being confined to bed - continued to paint. Her parents bought her a canopy bed with a mirror on the ceiling that could help her continue painting.



2. SELF-PORTRAITS

Thus began a long series of self-portraits, because as she said:

“I paint self-portraits because I am the person I know best”.

She'll make 55 portraits, some full length while others - most of them - are close-ups.

This urgency on self-representation has made her face recognizable, to the point of leading it to commodification. Her famous thick eyebrows joined to her nose thus become a trademark, a symbol of resistance and freedom.

Frida Kahlo - Self-portait with monkey

In Self-portrait with a monkey, 1940: the monkey is tied to Frida's hair with a red ribbon. In Mexican mythology the monkey is the protector of dances, but at the same time a symbol of concupiscence. In this representation, however, the animal is only a living being, tender and endowed with a soul that embraces the painter in a protective manner. Frida painting herself alongside her pets, she seems to seek protection.

The artist depicted Mexican flora and fauna, cactus, tropical plants, lava rocks, deer, monkeys, dogs; Diego Rivera saw all the splendor of the nation personified in Frida, both for her outward appearance and for her work.

Diego Rivera himself, however, who made her the martyr of a tormented love.



3. FRIDA AND HER MISCARRIAGES

In 1940 Frida Kahlo has already had 3 miscarriages, a drama that the artist had already represented with another self-portrait in 1932, lying on the bed of the Henry Ford hospital, after losing her second child. Perhaps the slightly naïve style is that of popular painting, but it seems to be the only language capable of telling the content of these tragic events in an essential way.

Frida Kahlo - Henry Ford Hospital, 1932

However, Frida proves to be a strong woman, that she goes beyond all the unpleasant inconveniences that her life places in front of her and proves to be able not only to portray her own pain, but also what afflicts the society in which she lives.


4. COMMUNIST REVOLUTIONARY MOVEMENT

She felt the need to represent it, as a moral commitment:

“I am very worried about my painting. Above all, I want to turn it into something useful for the communist revolutionary movement, since so far I have only painted an honest expression of myself ".
Frida Kahlo - My dress hangs there, 1933

It was in 1933 that he painted the condemnation of American capitalism, which she had had the opportunity to encounter on a trip to the United States with Rivera. The painting is titled My Dress Hangs There. She was a convinced communist and she could not fail to grasp the overturning of the values that American society imposed with the consequent zeroing of human rights.



5. SURREALIST OR NOT

Frida Kahlo - The love embrace of the Universe, the Earth, Myself, Diego, and Senor Xolotl, 1949

Frida of Surrealism is also famous. The constant use of symbols and dreamlike images unknowingly led the artist to approach the French movement. So in 1938 André Breton after having seen some of her paintings proposed to her to make an exhibition in Paris. Frida enthusiastically accepted the offer and went to the capital, in those years it is What water gave me, her self-portrait of her feet immersed in a tub full of mysterious objects.

Frida Kahlo - What the water gave me, 1938

But later Frida will move away from the movement, categorically refusing to be labeled as a Surrealist. Her painting is made up of symbols, but not those that dig into the unconscious in order to conceal mysterious or complex meanings; but her is a continuous self-therapeutic research, a method to be able to visualize, to make concrete in the form of symbols, what she was fully aware of. In fact, she will say

“They thought I was a surrealist, but I was not. I've never painted dreams. I painted my reality “.

August 1953 Frida underwent the amputation of her right leg for an infection that had caused gangrene. She died on July 13, 1954 at the age of 47 of pulmonary embolism, without ever ceasing to feel alive to the last cell.

Frida Kahlo, Viva la Vida, Watermelons, 1954. Photo by Jen Wilton, via Flickr.

And Viva la vida is the title of her latest painting, made a few days before her death.

It is not a self-portrait or a painful nightmare, but a juicy still life with watermelons. As if to say this is life, a slice of watermelon that we must suck to the last drop.

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