Sunday, September 16, 2007

Frida Kahlo

"I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best."
- 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).

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.

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.

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.


Venkat said...

Very nice post. Hadn't heard of her though I've seen the unibrow paintings before. Didn't she was married to Diego Riviera who has a big mural in the Detroit museum. Was just in the DC national galleries where there were Edward Hopper ("Nighthawks") and Jasper Johns (the flags guy) exhibitions on. Ended up there kinda by accident, but it reminded me that I actually like art. I just don't go hunting it out and going and looking as much as would probably be good for me.

I don't know why you have a problem with art going pop though. I though the distinction between high and low cultures vanished with whatzisname? Lichtenstein?

ZenDenizen said...

Lovely post! I admit I wasn't really familiar with her until the movie but I'm definitely interested in learning more now. I really have a thing for Latin American culture in general as well. This post makes me want to go dig up my flaming yellow Frida bag from Mexico :)

Anonymous said...

Venkat - Yes, she was married to Diego Rivera the artist you're thinking of. That's part of her life story. She accompanied him to the US and sorely missed her beautiful Mexico. She felt this country was too industrialized and misdirected values. (See her paintings 'Self Portait on the Border Between Mexico and the United States' and 'My Dress Hangs There'. BTW, she also has a painting called "Miscarriage in Detroit"

Why don't I like the "pop"ification? I don't know.. I felt that way with James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Virginia Woolf. I get to know them "intimately" and then see them on tote bags and such. It's not as if their images is sacred, but seems so different from what they saw themselves.

Zen - I edited out "albeit on a tote bag" and added "albeit on a mug". So, you're the one with the tote! :-)