Frida Kahlo: Artistic Heroine and Revolutionary Woman Much has been written to document the life and works of Frida Kahlo, and with good reason. Born during the years of before the Mexican Revolution, Frida Kahlo was the “poster child” for personal pain and tragedy. Her life included a series of illnesses and misfortunes that led to the personality and reflection of the woman in her artwork. Her marriage to Diego Rivera, a prominent Mexican muralist, was one of the “great tragedies” of her life, but also contributed to defining herself as an independent woman who defied all the stereotypes of women as artists that existed.
The other tradegy included a very serious bus accident that left her permanently scared and lame. Her paintings reflect the courage of a physically and emotionally broken woman and serve as a model of inspiration for young women still today. Her image Henry Ford Hospital painted in 1933 is one of the best examples of traditional and iconic imagery used to portray her female suffering and surrealist duality of connecting inner and outer sentiments.
In studying this work, her diary, and personal correspondences, the woman and the artist soar above pain and suffering and enlighten our status as women.
The accident that changed Frida’s life occurred in 1925, on a bus traveling back towards Coyoacan, her town on the outskirts of Mexico City, when it collided with a streetcar. Frida was found, covered in blood and gold dust that had exploded from an artists parcel. None of the doctors expected her to live, as she suffered from three fractured lower vertebrae, fractures of the pelvis, cervical vertebrae, and right foot, eleven breaks in her right leg, dislocated left shoulder, and broken ribs, not to mention that she was impaled by a metal rod that entered through her left hip and out through her genitals.
She claimed, “[That’s when] I lost my virginity”.  The last of these injuries was the most severe, as it prevented her from bearing children, a consequence that she would never get over. The most serious and restrictive injury though, was that of her spine and vertebrae. “Frida Kahlo, as no other artist of our tortured century, translated pain into art”. In total, she overcame thirty-two operations, one amputation, three miscarriages, and twenty-nine years of physical pain.  So how was she so successful in conveying this unyielding pain?
In her diary, in the process of defining her view of the revolution, she equates it with pain, and thus defines its role in her art. She claims, “Revolution is the harmony of form and color and everything exists, and moves, under only one law = life = Nobody is separate from anybody else- Nobody fights for himself. Everything is all and one Anguish and pain- pleasure and death are no more than a process for existence xxxx the revolutionary struggle xxxxx in this process is a doorway open to intelligence.  Revolution as she explains begins to take on the power of a religious belief system, and reveals her reliance of this process to explain her own existential loneliness. Frida was very afraid of being left behind because of her handicap, and talked about it often. “I am afraid to lose those I love, I don’t want anyone to leave, I want to be surrounded…I exist in the reflected light of others”.  In many of the letters that she writes to her friends, she ends them with sentiments ranging from asking forgiveness, to “don’t forget me”, and even sometimes “you have to write soon so I do not become a sad and unpleasant child”. 5] Her diary entries and letters to various friends, lovers, and family members reflect the desperation and sadness that Frida felt daily. Although she was in tremendous pain the majority of her life, she never ceased to challenge herself and persue the things she loved. Her diary is full of emotional outbursts and statements of passion and confusion. Although never intended to be seen publicly, this diary helps us to see the person that hid in Frida’s psyche. “The Frida that I have inside is only known to me. Only I can tolerate her”.  Throughout Frida’s writings, Freud is mentioned often.
Women like Kahlo were “unmoved by Surrealist theorizing on the subject of erotic desire” and were “turning to their own sexual reality as a source and subject…For Kahlo…painting became a means of sustaining a dialogue with inner reality”.  In her letters, she discusses her encounters with Surrealism and its affect on her. She never fully understood the concepts of surrealism and referred to Andre Breton and others as “a bunch of perfect sons of… their mother” and “big shits of surrealism”.  During her exhibition in Paris with members of the surrealist group, she met artists such as Marcel
Duchamp, whom she thought was the “only one among the painters and artists here who has his feet on the ground and his brains in their right place”, and befriended his wife for a period of time. She received compliments from artists such as Joan Miro, Wassily Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso, Tanguy, and Paalen, the so called “big shits”. After receiving congratulations and praises in Paris, Kahlo felt a sense of “a capacity to convoke a whole universe out of the bits and fragments of her own self and out of the persistent traditions of her own culture”. 9] She felt a strong connection to the country she came from and the traditions and culture of Mexico are represented in many of her works. Frida Kahlo represented a “new woman” in the post revolutionary Mexico. With her marriage to Diego Rivera in 1929, she “put herself quite literally and intentionally in the center of this political avant-garde”, but still remained an anonymous participant.  To break free of the mold, she addressed conflict rather than suppressed it. She embraced herself and created a style distinct from anything else at the time.
Kahlo identifies with contradictions of her mestizaje race, and incorporated religious iconographies with traditional Pre-Columbian myth to create a new attitude towards are in the period of the revolution. Not only was she uncomfortable with the gender constructs in Mexico, but did everything in her power to defy them. In her portraits, we often see a type of “gender blending” seen in her typical exaggeration of facial hair, portrayals of cutting off her hair, dressing herself in suits, and fashioning herself as a manly woman.
Similar to the styles in Europe at the time when we see women looking androgynous, so does Frida assume those roles herself to pictorially challenge social constructs of the times. In terms of Frida’s treatment of the female figure, her representations focus greatly on the femininity of the body and the key components of the fertile woman. Her inability to have children plagued her until her death. She often referred to Rivera as her child, and often imagined that she had a son, going so far as to write out a birth card for an unborn child, and even once received her formaldehyde fetus as a gift from her trusted doctor.
Kahlo was very aware of her inabilities. “I always knew there was more death than life in my body”. But it was in this void, that she filled with her passion for painting. “I haven’t died and I have something to live for: painting,” she says. “It completed my life. I had three miscarriages. Painting substituted for the babies I never had. ” And it was in her painting that we see true passion for life replace the tragedy of one woman. [pic] According to Sharyn Udall in her article Frida Kahlo’s Mexican Body: History Identity and Artistic Aspiration, “Her paintings tell stories – intimate, engaging, terrifying and tragic ones.
Together with her writings, they explore the toughness and vulnerability of the human body. ” Perhaps one of the best images that reflects the pain, sorrow, and emotion that she faced is Henry Ford Hospital, painted in 1933. It was in July 1932, in Detroit, Michigan that she experienced one of the three miscarriages, and the painting was done while she was recovering from the incident. Considered an “ex-voto”, a small, religious painting, painted on tin, typically depicts a tragic event accompanied by a literal description. Most depict a miraculous cure through the portrayal of one or more persons praying for the sick individual who is usually prostrate in bed. ” In this case, the six inanimate objects are connected to Kahlo herself, and instead of a Saint being present, Henry Ford Hospital is responsible for saving her life. In this self-portrait of the artist, Kahlo depicts herself naked in a hospital bed and in pain, as a tear rolls down her cheek. The bed is suspended in a barren landscape, emphasizing the unfamiliarity of the landscape.
A vague skyline exists in the background, representing the city of Detroit and placing the dream-like image in a concrete location. A large pool of blood appears from under her vagina, the aftermath of the miscarriage and hemorrhaging she experienced. She is attached by vein-like, visible strings representing the physical and emotional ties to her unborn fetus, an anatomical model of the lower part of the female body she said was her “idea of explaining the insides of a woman”, an orchid, a machine used to make casts, a snail, and to her pelvis that had been shattered in the bus accident that made it impossible for her to bear children.
The strings are concrete representations of the spiritual connections she established between her artistic expression and the traumas that influenced it. The masculine fetus represents her unborn son “Dieguito”, a son that she longed to have. The snail in the upper right corner has been interpreted as either the slow process of giving birth, or more realistically, symbolic of the act of conceiving the child and her deep love for Diego. She often referred to Diego as her child. Such is the case in the following entry in her diary. Diego beginning Diego builder Diego my child…Diego my son…” it is apparent that she associated Diego with giving life, as he gave her life through love, to her Diego is everything.  The orchid, in the center of the bottom, was a present from Diego and is representative in antiquity as an aphrodisiac and fertitlity symbol. The machine in the image is used to make the casts that Frida was confined in for many years of her life. The cruel looking machine she invented “to explain the mechanical part of the whole business”. Plato describes the body as “a tomb that imprisions us as much as the oyster is is caught within the shell”. 15] For Frida, her body was always confined in casts, bandages, and tragically embodies this description. The casts she wore were merely the exterior representations of the inner “tomb” she struggled to break free of. The “erotic violence”, rather than being directed at another present object is instead directed at the artist herself. Unlike in male surrealist paintings, female surrealists often represented themselves in the image, placing themselves under the eye of the viewer, allowing for interpretation and personal reflection.  Kahlo was extremely successful in establishing a connection between the viewer and herself and the image.
It is through her narrative paintings that we are reminded of the fraility of the female body in response to the female gift of child bearing. But it is also in this reminder that we are enlightened and empowered. “Henry Ford Hospital commemorates the miracle of Kahlo’s continual defeat of death through the unbearable experience of miscarriage. ” Frida lived her life to the fullest, despite immense pain, handicaps, and suffering. She had a gift for communicating her emotions to the world through painting. Her paintings are beautiful, often heartbreaking works, and are uniquely her style.
Yet she is an amazing woman in her own right, for what she has endured, how she persevered, and how she was an inspiration and example of strength. She redefined the role of women, and even more importantly, women artists all over the world. She refused to become merely and artist’s model, or a man’s wife. She escaped the mold and flourished under an artist as great and well known as Diego Rivera. She is a modern day heroine, and will be remembered for many centuries. In conclusion, in her words, she leaves us with her legacy: Poem to Lina and Arcady Boytler May 3, 1946 I am leaving my portrait to you so you’ll have me in front of you very day and every night in which I am far away from you. Sadness is portrayed in my whole work but that’s my condition; I am hopeless Nevertheless, I have happiness in my heart, knowing that Arcady and Lina love me the way I am. Take this little painting painted with my tenderness in exchange for your affection and your immense sweetness. Frida Kahlo ———————–  Martha Zamora, Frida Kahlo: The Brush of Anguish (San Fransisco: Chronicle Books, 1990).  Carlos Fuentes, introduction to The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait by Frida Kahlo (New York: Harry N Adams Inc. 1995), pg. 12.  Fuentes, 243.  Elena Ponilatowska, Frida Kahlo: The Camera Seduced (San Franscisco: Chronicle Books, 1992), pg. 16.  Martha Zamora, comp. , The Letters of Frida Kahlo: Cartas Apasionadas (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1995), pg. 58.  Poniatowaska, 18.  Whitney Chadwick, Women, Art, and Society (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1990) pg. 296.  Zamora, Letters, 96.  Fuentes, 15.  Liza Bakewell, “Frida Kahlo: A Contemporary Feminist Reading,” Frontiers: A Journalof Women’s Studies 13 (1993): 168. 11] Poniatowska, 18.  Sharyn R. Udall, “Frida Kahlo’s Mexican Body: History, Identity, and Artistic Aspiration,” Woman’s Art Journal 24 (2003): 10-14.  Maria A Castro-Sethness, “Frida Kahlo’s Spiritual World: The Influence of Mexican Retablo and Ex-Voto Paintings on Her Art,” Woman’s Art Journal 25 (2004): 21-24.  Fuentes, 235.  Fuentes, 13.  Elizabeth Garber, “Art Criticism on Frida Kahlo: A Comparison of Feminist and Non-Feminist Voices,” Art Education 45 (1992): 42-48.  Castro-Sethness, 22.  Zamora, Letters 129.
Cite this Frida Kahlo: Artistic Heroine and Revolutionary Woman
Frida Kahlo: Artistic Heroine and Revolutionary Woman. (2018, Feb 18). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/frida-kahlo-artistic-heroine-and-revolutionary-woman/