Frida Kahlo: Art, Pain and the Body

Raices (Roots), 1943

Appeared in an archived Pomona College online publication on 2.08.2011

The body weaves in and out of conversations more than many topics that Pomona students consider “important.” Intentionally or not, we constantly objectify ourselves and others in our attempts to experience, understand and explain the world. Yet, in many ways, the body remains taboo. Something that should be euphemized, transcended, or displayed at the right times, in the right ways.

Lately, I find myself looking for inspiration precisely in the body and in art that is concerned, more than anything else, with the body, its pain and suffering, its dimensions, limitations, connections and possibilities. Such an exploration is inevitably permeated with Frida Kahlo’s powerful, inspiring and equally jarring self-portraits and I couldn’t help but mention them here.

For Frida painting filled many voids, including the one created by the inability to have children. She drew herself because she was often lonely and thought that her own body was the subject she knew best. Through her numerous self-portraits, Frida Kahlo experienced the world and herself. Her paintings show the connection she felt to the physical world of her own body and the pain she experienced after a grave accident, but also her relationship with tradition, politics, industrialization, nature and her husband, the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.

Frida draws her own body in incredible ways. Coming out of the womb in a stylized vision of her own birth. As part of the ecosystem, luscious roots and leaves sprouting out of her torso. In a US hospital after a scarring abortion. As a pair of mirror images whose hearts, as if copied from an anatomy textbook, share a bloody connection.

In these paintings there is no right way to talk about the body. It is drawn the way it is experienced and, therefore, the way it is. Shame and propriety are foreign concepts. Beauty is paired with truth as a universal factor. When she draws other people and objects, Frida follows the same logic. Magical realism in painting.


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