Frida Kahlo


The Two Fridas (1939)
The Two Fridas (1939)

Two identical women are seated in ritual costume against a stormy sky with superimposed, interconnected hearts while holding hands. Their faces impassive serene and yet resigned.

Painted when Frida Kahlo was divorced from Diego Rivera she is depicted as two conflicting yet connected portraits of her persona. She grasps her hands and where, on the right she clasps a locket of Rivera and shows her exposed heart intact, on the left her heart is dissected and she holds macabre surgical scissors. The left image is the Kahlo that is rejected.

Diego on my Mind (1940)
Diego on my Mind (1940)

A looming portrait with a tattooed face seems to push beyond its  frame with tendril like petals in a halo. A delicate vale flows downward in a sweep of satin upon an organic background suggesting eternal nature.

Kahlo is painted in traditional Mexican Tehuana costume and she has just married Rivera. Streaming, living tendrils branch outward in all directions representing sprouting organic life and renewed love. An indelible tattoo of Rivera on her forehead symbolises his permanency.

The Little Deer (1946)
The Little Deer (1946)

A bounding deer in a woodland clearing seems strangely foreboding and ever so vulnerable. It has a human head and the pierced abdomen with bloodied arrows makes reference to Saint Sebastian. The soft earth green of the wooded Eden and distant sky are abruptly truncated with nightmarish trees. 

The Aztec symbol for the human right foot is the deer and Kahlo’s has been injured by a terrible bus accident and also polio. During the period of this painting she became interested in mysticism and Eastern religion. The arrows represent her ongoing suffering from her problematic relationship and physical injuries.

So which interpretations is correct – the dark text or the light text? Kahlo’s unique symbolism and personal life story reveal the light text interpretation to be closest to the truth.

In 1925, Frida Kahlo had a near fatal traffic accident when her school bus collided with a street car. An iron hand rail impaled her through the pelvis fracturing ribs, collarbone and displacing three vertebrae. She was to sustain illness and pain related to this accident for the rest of her life. Months in hospital and recuperation led to her taking up painting while bedridden.

She quickly developed artistically and realised her aptitude for art enabled her to directly explore and express her life experiences. Much of the symbology in her paintings reference her physical and emotional pain brought on by the traffic accident.

She joined the Mexican Communist Party in the late 1920’s in her slow recovery ending her confinement and she began to mingle with political activists and artists.

The next critical phase in her life occurred on meeting Diego Rivera when she approached him to assess her work. This fateful meeting would lead to their marriage and life-long artistic bond. But he was a womaniser and the pain and anguish is again evident in the paintings.

In the late 1920’s a fascination in Mexican folk art including pre columbian art with its flattened perspective and unique colouring began to influence her art and she was to adopt the wearing of traditional costume and jewellery.

Like other historically famous figures in art she was to be posthumously recognised decades later & not in her lifetime. She is now firmly established in the pantheon of international art.