The original was created using, Oil on canvas
My painting carries with it the message of pain.
Largely self-taught, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) is celebrated all over the world for her attention to Mexican and indigenous culture and her exploration of issues like identity, postcolonialism, gender, class, and race in Mexican society. She created intimate portraits in her own private Surrealist language, that captured her personal struggles. And while AndréBreton, co-founder of the Surrealism movement, considered Kahlo a Surrealist, Kahlo rejected that label and insisted that she just painted her reality; a reality steeped in the symbolism found in Mexican devotional and folk art. She merged Christian symbolism with her own dreams to create this reality.
At the age of six Kahlo was stricken with polio leaving one of her legs shorter than the other. Later, during her teenage years, she was involved in a horrific bus accident in which she suffered multiple fractures of her spine, collarbone and ribs, a shattered pelvis, eleven fractures in her right leg, a crushed and dislocated right foot, and a dislocated shoulder. In her lifetime she had over 30 operations and understandably suffered from bouts of depression. Despite at one point recovering in a full body cast, Kahlo continued to focus on her painting undeterred.
In addition to her ongoing health issues, Kahlo also endured a volatile marriage with acclaimed Mexican artist Diego Rivera – even divorcing him and marrying for a second time! Diego Rivera was an influential public figure, a political activist, and painter who is known for his large, didactic murals championing the nation’s history, culture, and post-Revolutionary ideals. Widely known for their Marxist leanings, the couple, along with Revolutionary Che Guevara and a small group of their contemporaries, have become counterculture symbols of the 20th century.
Kahlo is best known for her bold, vibrantly colored self-portraits that mirror both her pain and passion. She often channeled her feelings into her artwork as well as the many pets that shared their home, Casa Azul (Blue House) in Coyoacán, Mexico City. Guests of Casa Azul would often be entertained by her pet spider monkeys, Amazon parrot, fawn, eagle, parakeets, macaws, hens, sparrows, and even hairless Mexican ixquintle – a breed of dog whose ancestry dates back to the Aztecs.
Kahlo was enormously proud of her Mesoamerican heritage, and she and Rivera collected the Pre-Columbian artifacts, including sculptures, idols and jewelry that are still displayed at the Azul House, now home to the Frida Kahlo Museum. This collection and the passion that inspired it greatly impacted Kahlo’s iconography.
Frida Kahlo’s paintings are more than simply depictions of herself or the world around her. Her art is a tool that visually translates her innermost thought and memories and the complex beliefs she fought to uphold. Her self-portraits are especially laden with symbolism, and understanding her glossary of symbols will lead to a deeper understanding and appreciation for Kahlo and her message. For example, eight of Kahlo’s self-portraits feature monkeys. In pre-Columbian society, monkeys held symbolic importance. They were the gods of fertility, noted for their cheekiness and uninhibited sexuality, and they were also closely connected with dance and the arts. To Kahlo, these monkeys symbolized the children that she was never able to bear because of the injuries she had suffered in the accident.
In her Self Portrait with Monkeys, the iconic raven-haired, uni-browed Kahlo, is depicted in a traditional three-quarter turn, surrounded by four black spider monkeys, two with their arms wrapped around her, and the others hiding amongst the large leafy foliage of the Bird of Paradise plant. In Mexican mythology, monkeys are symbols of lust, but Kahlo portrayed them as tender and protective symbols.
On Kahlo’s white cotton blouse or huipil, two of the monkeys point to a rectangularly-framed red and orange Aztec glyph that is the symbol of earthquakes or movement. Here she symbolically claimed her place at the forefront of a movement towards change. Her love of symbolism also translated to her personal style. At this point Kahlo hadalready adopted carefully chosen peasant and indigenous clothes and styling into her everyday life. Kahlo’s signature style, like the symbolism she wove into her paintings, was a cultural, political and personal statement that defined her legacy.
At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.
How do Frida Kahlo’s words in the quote above make you feel? Do you think her words would have had a different meaning to you before Covid-19 and sheltering in place? Take some time to think about what this quote means to you now. Write a journal entry, poem, or story about how you are surviving the new world in which we live. Writing is cathartic, expressing your feeling can provide great relief! You may want to keep what you write private, or you can share it with us at firstname.lastname@example.org and it may be posted on our website.
For more information on Frida Kahlo:
Frida Kahlo art projects you can do at home:
Activities investigating identity through Frida Kahlo:
*didactic – Didactic works of art are intended to convey instruction and information and/or convey a sometimes moral lesson.
*iconography – The visual images and symbols used in a work of art or the study or interpretation of these. As a branch of art history, iconography studies the identification, description, and the interpretation of the content of images: the subjects depicted, the particular compositions and details used to do so, and other elements that are distinct from artistic style.
*surrealism – The Surrealist sought to explore the unconscious mind as a way of creating art. The result was dreamlike, sometimes bizarre imagery that was created using multiple mediums and techniques including collage. Surrealism is an artistic and literary movement led by French poet André Breton from 1924 through World War II. Drawing on the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud, the Surrealists sought to overthrow what they perceived as the oppressive rationalism of modern society by accessing the sur réalisme (superior reality) of the subconscious. In his 1924 “Surrealist Manifesto,” Breton argued for an uninhibited mode of expression derived from the mind’s involuntary mechanisms, particularly dreams, and called on artists to explore the uncharted depths of the imagination with radical new methods and visual forms. These ranged from abstract “automatic” drawings to hyper-realistic painted scenes inspired by dreams and nightmares to uncanny combinations of materials and objects.
For more information on the artist, visit museofridakahlo.org.mx/en/
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*The Emergency Art Museum claims no ownership, or copyright to any materials found here, or on-site. The Emergency Art Museum functions solely as a non-commercial, non-profit, educational resource for the community. All artwork represented or reproduced, has been done so for educational purposes only under the fair use act.
-Johnny DePalma, Owner / Curator
-Janelle Graves, Art Historian / Museum Educator