There is no other name that prevails throughout time when we think about controversial, female artistic leaders in Latin America. Frida Kahlo for decades has been revered as a source of inspiration and female expression, especially amongst the Latin community. Contemporary Modern Latina artists refer back to Kahlo as their original source of intuition to guide them in portraying their own art-form. This seems to be controversial in itself. Feminism is a term often used loosely in the art world, where it then ends up losing its real essence of what true feminism is and the message it should portray. And yet despite this, Kahlo’s remains a source of guidance for many Latina artists.

The truth is that political events, post-colonialism, guerillas and matters involving, race, gender, and social status were an influential backdrop that inspired artists such as Kahlo. The Feminist movement reaching its peak had changed the world. Women and art found a new validation and ways to express this new found freedom. However, how real to these values were the messages reflected in the works of Frida Kahlo, also known as the greatest surrealist artist of modern times?

Her behavior was certainly groundbreaking, she lived by her own rules and this was quickly portrayed in her early years as an artist. However, it is quite a paradox that a seemingly self-confident artist who would gamble and drink tequila shots at a bar, over amplified in her self portraits her faint mustache and uni-brow would then fall prey to an abusive relationship and marriage. Many of Kahlo’s works actually defy the empowering definition of what feminism truly is.

In the end, her message was clear -her life was miserable not because she was handicapped but rather because she dwelled in a larger restraint. Her marriage with Diego Rivera was tumultuous at best. The years of abuse and her tolerance spew all over Kahlo’s portraits. Where is the proud feminist leader? Instead, Kahlo decided to victimize herself as she so clearly illustrates in every masterpiece.

-The wounded table: Kahlo painted this portrait in 1940 when her divorce was finalized. It is a heart drenching depiction of loneliness and self-pity. A crude expression of despair. The table having human legs and the surface bleeding over some knots depicts her broken family. On one side she depicts her sister Cristina and her two children, as a double affliction, for Kahlo could never bear children due to an almost fatal accident in her early years. Compounded by the bitter and humiliating fact that her sister Cristina had an affair with Rivera. We also see here a tall Judas figure, represented as Rivera, clearly invoking betrayal and doom.

-Diego and I: This painting shows Frida’s great anguish over Diego Rivera, her husband, as he was having an affair at that time with actress Maria Felix. It is raw and very crude to analyze the codes in this portrait as they certainly do not exemplify a Feminist leader but rather a worthless victim in the hands of a man. A woman contemplating suicide as is indicated with her own hair wrapped around her neck. Further worrisome is the depiction of Rivera’s face on her forehead, with a third eye. This clearly indicates not strength but rather her eagerness and desperation as clearly he was the main and only focus in her psyche and persona. This is not surprising as we have learned from Kahlo’s diaries that Rivera was always on her mind in a desperate way, longing for his love and attention. In her own words “only you revive me”. It seems as if our “strong” feminist artist is but a frail woman after all; living in the shadows of a man and subject to his will.

-The Two Frida’s: This painting completed shortly after her divorce to Diego Rivera clearly shows two personalities. We see the traditional Frida in Tehuana costume, with an unconventional broken heart, sitting next to a modern dressed Frida. The artist admitted shortly after that she was trying to express her desperation and heartache propelled by her divorce. The two Frida’s hold hands, the traditional Frida has her heart cut open her main artery dripping blood onto her beautiful white skirt. The blood represents her desire to bleed to death. The stormy skies above are an indication of her internal turmoil and anguish.

-Diego and Frida: Frida painted this painting as a gift for Diego on their 15th wedding anniversary. Normally this would seem as a romantically sweet gesture. However, the portrait is rather eerie and suffocating. It depicts a heart and its arteries confounded. Each half of the heart belongs to the faces of Frida and Diego respectively…it is not a portrayal of a couple but rather of one person in what seems to be an obsessive and toxic co-dependent relationship.

-The Broken Column: This painting being world-acclaimed depicts Kahlo in all of her suffering. In a very graphic sense she is wanting her audience to comprehend her pain and the limits she feels dealing with her handicapped and mutilated body. Yet it is far from courageous it seems to be a desperate attempt at self-pity, justifying all of her subsequent suicidal thoughts. This ideology is far from the principles she had once set to express and share with the world through her art.

-Roots: Frida had always stated that in faith life can join in a single form. This painting depicts her on the parched earth rooted to the ground where her torso opens and gives birth to a vine (symbolizing an eagerness for children given her barrenness). Through this vine, she bleeds and the blood circulates down into the earth. It has been thought that her catholic background stems forth as in trying to mimic the blood of Jesus shed for the salvation of men. Again Kahlo depicts herself as a victim and a martyr.

Unfortunately, the greatest feminist Latina artist in the world of modern art was a sad paradox of the feminist values she so arrogantly boasted during most of her life. She was not liberal at all, but rather a prisoner of her dysfunctional relationship with her husband. Their co-dependency was toxic to the extent that the couple re-married one year after their divorce only to continue living in separate homes with various illicit affairs. Although widely outspoken, openly bi-sexual, and wanting to ascertain her self assurance by depicting her distorted physique, Frida actually becomes a clear example of what self-pity and a loss of self-worth look like.

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© 2020 by Vanessa Q Martin