Let’s talk about one of the most famous painters around the world. A girl who dreamed of becoming a doctor but in the end became a painter. In life she was recognized internationally by her peers, although her works were not famous among the public. Now she’s one of the most emblematic characters that represent hispanic culture. Let's talk about Frida Kahlo (1907-1954).
During most of the 20th century, people knew about Frida Kahlo mainly because she was married to the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. Few people cared to really understand the process she was having as an artist, the revolutionary ideas she had as a person, and the powerful and introspective (sometimes painful) artworks she produced.
Before going into detail about a specific painting, it might be important to recall the words that she used after the founder of the surrealists, André Bretón, called her art and her country (Mexico) “the most surreal place par excellence” to which she answered, “I paint my own reality”.
This quote is probably one of the most important things we have left from the artist, besides her artworks of course. Because it’s an honest and direct way of telling someone that he didn’t need to tag her and her country in a specific stereotype or artistic vanguard, nonetheless one that didn’t even originate in her country.
If she was not a surrealist who painted dreamlike events with subconscious and irrational thoughts, what did she really mean when she said she painted her own reality?
Frida did go through a lot during her life, she got sick of polio when she was little so she walked with a limp on her right leg, she suffered a near fatal accident in which a bus she was riding collided with a streetcar, leaving her with a broken spinal column, a fractured pelvis and other injuries that required her to undergo multiple surgeries and periods of forced rest. She also had depression because of her medical condition, plus the loss of several pregnancies and the fact that she had a very hard marriage due to continuous infidelities by Diego Rivera didn’t help her mental health.
So yes, when we know some bits about her personal story, we can understand the details of her artworks.
We understand why she shows her body, her surgeries and her organs in a certain way, and we can also understand that even if she was in love with her country, its fruit, its heritage and its colors, she was also in pain. And talking about something personal throughout any method, in this case she chose art, is not easy. And it’s also not a dream, it's something very direct and honest.
Therefore, when Frida Kahlo said she didn’t know she was a surrealist it was true, she didn’t subscribe to a group to create a certain type of art, she was just very honest with how she felt.
Finally, here’s a little about one of her most famous pieces, “The Two Fridas”.
This painting shows two Fridas sitting right next to each other. One wears a white Victorian dress, while the other wears a traditional Tehuana dress (Frida was a fan of indigenous textiles and their heritage). If you focus your eyes on the white Frida's heart, you might see it is exposed and bleeding, while the Tehuana Frida holds a small portrait of Diego Rivera.
The two Fridas represent the duality of her identity, as a woman who struggled with her Mexican heritage and European ancestry (German and Spanish). The exposed heart symbolizes Kahlo's physical and emotional pain, while the portrait of Diego Rivera represents the source of her suffering. In addition, this painting has also been interpreted as a political and cultural climate of Mexico during the time it was created as well as the struggles of women in Mexican society and their ability to be independent in the face of social expectations.
Have you ever been in a moment when you feel like you’ve been labeled wrong?
At OCHO we believe in you, that’s why we also believe you can paint your own reality and treasure your personal story.
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