Portraying Pain Elegantly

I have been waiting all semester for my art history class to start talking about Frida Kahlo. And finally, the day has come. I collected my favorite little tidbits for you, but Frida is a river that runs deep and wide and I could talk about her for hours on end.

Though now I think Frida is most recognizable to us through her unibrow, she has really evolved into one of the most (if not the number one) prominent painters/artists from Mexico. All of her paintings, even those that are not self portraits, are so painfully and beautifully autobiographical. She conveys this pure sense of vulnerability through her work; she offers her life and soul to the viewer, which is no easy feat.

Frida Kahlo unfortunately had an extremely turbulent life. As a child she survived polio, leaving her with chronic pain and visible disability in one of her legs–something she would forever be insecure about throughout the rest of her life. As if that physical burden wasn’t enough, around the age of 18 she was involved in a trolley accident that left her pelvis and spine nearly destroyed. She had to wear a plaster brace for the majority of her life, and had to adapt her living and painting areas to accommodate for her injuries.

Physical turmoil aside, her emotional life was no easier. She had an intensely long and problematic relationship with another artist, Diego Rivera. I could easily write about 10 pages about how much this man gives me the ick, but I refrain from this because this is about the beauty of Frida Kahlo. Rivera was much older than her, and held himself in high esteem within the art world. He was very notable, yes, but he was still a jerk. Through Frida’s art she really shows the suffocating and obsessive nature of their relationship, depicting him frequently in her works and self portraits. Throughout their marriage and relationship, Frida also suffered many miscarriages that left her feeling weak and distraught. Personally, I think the core of a lot of her work is about how she feels as if her body has failed her time and time again. Especially within her piece of her at Henry Ford Hospital after one of her miscarriages, this point comes through with full force and its hard to miss her point. Also one of my favorites in this sense, is Tree of Hope, Remain Strong, painted by Kahlo in 1946 about her worsening chronic pain and the conflict she felt within herself.

This internal conflict also comes through in one of her most popular works The Two Fridas, which highlights her internal struggle between her Spanish and Mexican heritage. Her Spanish side dresses in white and attempts to clamp the flow of blood coming, but ultimately the source is too strong. The source, held by her Mexican side, is an image of Diego Rivera. Though she holds hands with herself, ultimately there is an invisible tension between them. This tension partially comes from the depictions of two very different cultures, but I think it also comes from the fight of trying to save herself from a relationship she also just cannot let go of. 

Even through a tumultuous life and a number of tragic events, Frida somehow manages to convey such elegance and grace in her works. Something about her portrayal of both her androgyny and her femininity create the image of such a strong and resilient woman. Someone who, even in the face of adversity and pain, managed to stand strong and express herself in a way that will be remembered as long as memory serves and art is alive. Okay, so I can’t say that for sure, but I would like to think so. If anyone secretly has a time machine, please let me know if my future family line still looks at Frida Kahlo and thinks that

  1. She’s amazing and impactful no matter which of her paintings you’re looking at


  1. Diego Rivera stinks

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