- Frida Kahlo (1907-1954 )
I watched a 2005 documentary on Frida Kahlo the other night and like always, I'm inspired by her spirit and in awe of her art. Because Kahlo is such a personal painter, knowing the backstory helps one understand and appreciate the complexities she's expressed through her art.
She's become part of pop-culture, which is a double-edged sword. She becomes the "that lady with the unibrow" to some. Then, hopefully she piques the curiosity of other. So rather than being forgotten, her story and her art lives on (albeit on a mug).
I was introduced to her years ago in my "Third World Artists" class in college. (Note: It was the oddest class I ever took because the professor complained westerners did not appreciate third-world artists and recognized the European Renaissance as the only artistic renaissance that ever existed. Yet, all he did was show art documentaries and leave. We didn't even discuss anything! All the students congregated in the hallways afterwards to discuss what we saw.)
The documentary spurred my interest in her and I'm sharing two paintings I found online.
The Love-Embrace of the Universe, (1949) This is intriguing because she's infantilized her husband, Diego Rivera. It's ironic because they had a significant age difference and she married him in her early 20's. He called her his "child." Along the way, her maturation and growth surpassed his. I like how she recognizes her place in the universe, knowing that there are higher beings and ancestors who have cradled and nurtured before. She nestles herself and Diego into this lap, showing the balance of moon and the sun. This is also a tribute to her Latin American heritage, which acknowledges the power of a female deity in nature. I know Latin American cultures have strong images of fertility goddesses in their artwork. (Note: my final project for my Third World Artists class was the comparison of ancient Mexican fertility art forms to a modern Israeli artist who depicted childbirth in metal sculptures).
I think one thing misleading about her paintings is the serious look she has. After seeing Salma Hayek in Julie Taymor's "Frida," I felt her true personality was revealed. She was an artist, a charismatic and alluring woman who enjoyed life. She loved her country and her people. Her relationship with Diego was tough due to his infidelity. However, she had affairs with men and women, which indicates a separation from the traditional role of a Mexican wife. Even as an artist, she tried to mimic her husband's style and ambitions, but she couldn't. She had to be true to her own creative leanings.
Thinking of Death (1943) is a self-portrait and its significance is quite apparent with such a title. Kahlo suffered greatly in a bus accident in her 20's and spent years hospitalized for reconstructive surgeries. Also, she was hospitalized for lost pregnancies though childbirth would have resulted in her death. In this picture, she paints herself among the lush greenery, while death is always on her mind.
Even in this biography,they showed a film clip of her tucking flowers in her hair, making that famous band of flowers across her head. I just loved that image of her, being herself and creating herself.
In a way, for all the pain her body and heart had sustained, she was fortunate to have the a creative outlet. She had the passion to express her emotions and thoughts, most of which did not make sense to her or others. But,it did what it was supposed to do.