"I tried to drown my sorrows, but the bastards learned how to swim, and now I am overwhelmed by this decent and good feeling."
Artwork by Sabaridas
Broken Column , 1944, Oil on Masonite
The Two Fridas, 1939
Henry Ford Hospital, 1932
Depth of The Pain
Mexican artist Frida Kahlo is remembered for her self-portraits, pain and passion, and bold, vibrant colours. Her works portray her innermost emotion and mostly deals with the pain that she was subject to from a very young age. She admired Mexican culture and her life and works have deep connection to Mexico’s indigenous culture. Her paintings are echoes of the experience that she went through in life.
Kahlo suffered from Polio as a very young child and was no stranger to the hospital. When she was a teenager, the bus she was travelling in met with an accident. She suffered multiple fractures of her spine, collarbone and ribs, a shattered pelvis, broken foot and dislocated shoulder. During her times at the hospital she dedicated herself to art. One of her best works Broken Column, depicts the effect the accident had on her. It shows us the physical trauma that she experienced during the accident and the recovery process in the hospital.
In her works, she portrays her reality. The 1937 painting Memory, the Heart, shows Kahlo's pain over her husband's affair with her younger sister Christina. A large broken heart at her feet shows the intensity of Kahlo's anguish. Frido and Diego divorced in 1939, but reunited a year later and remarried. The Two Fridas (1939) depicts Kahlo twice, shortly after the divorce. One Frida wears a costume from the Tehuana region of Mexico, representing the Frida that Diego loved. The other Frida wears a European dress as the woman who Diego betrayed and rejected. Later, she is back in Tehuana dress in Self-Portrait as a Tehuana (1943) and Self Portrait (1948). She tries to capture a particular emotion that takes over her at a particular point in her life. That makes her work powerful and real.
The Element of Pain
One of the main subjects that Frida portrayed in her works was her pain. The physical and emotional pain that she experienced in her life is evident in most of her works, especially her self-portraits. Starting with the Broken Column, which shows her physical plight after the bus accident to later portraits like The Wounded Deer which was painted in 1946 shows herself as a deer pierced by arrows, waiting for death or hoping for help. One major transformation that we can see in her painting is from physical pain to emotional pain. When we look at Frida’s works after she found out about her husband, Diego Rivera, was having an affair with her younger sister. We see a change in how she portrays herself. This is most evident in the self-portrait, The Two Fridas.
This painting was completed shortly after Frida’s divorce with Diego Rivera. It’s a double self-portrait with one Frida wearing white European clothes and the other one in Mexican traditional clothes. In Frida's dairy, she wrote about this painting and said it is originated from her memory of an imaginary childhood friend. Later she admitted it expressed her desperation and loneliness with the separation from Diego. The dark and stormy sky implies her internal dilemma of losing the person she loved. It also shows the conflict between her traditional Mexican side and her European inclinations.
It is noticeable that during their separation, her emotional pain outweighed her physical pain. Another such instance of intense emotional pain was during her miscarriages which is portrayed in the painting Henry Ford Hospital. Completed in 1932, this painting shows Frida disconnected and helpless. She portrays herself lying naked on the hospital bed with her body twisted and the images dark with blood and haemorrhage.
This painting is a reflection of what Frida felt when she was having miscarriage at Henry Ford hospital. There are six objects flying around her. A male foetus which is the son of her and Diego she has longed to have. The foetus which is based on a medical illustration. An orchid which looks like a uterus. The stomach she holds against to the red ribbons and they look like umbilical cords. The snail is the symbol of the slowness of the operation.
Pain is what shaped her works, but when you look at her works collectively, it is also a story of how she overcomes pain. Pain is always been a constant for her. Even from when she was very young, she had been through a lot of pain. And this experience with pain is visible in most of her works. Frida Kahlo participated in the "International Exhibition of Surrealism" in 1940 at the Galeria de Arte, Mexicano. There, she exhibited her two largest paintings: The Two Fridas and The Wounded Table (1940). Some of the artists at the time considered Frida’s works to be surrealistic, Frida strongly rejected this label stating that her paintings were her portrayal of real experiences in her life. Frida Kahlo used her works to make us understand the depth of her pain, her fight for survival, her emotional trauma and joy of hope, hope that there will always be an end, hope that pain is not eternal and at the end death will always be waiting.
Written by: Tom J Pulickan