All 15 entries tagged Frida Kahlo

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June 09, 2011

'Memory' – a poem by Frida Kahlo.

Frida Kaho


I had swayed. Nothing else. But suddenly I knew

In the depth of my silence

He was following me. Like my shadow, blameless and light

In the night, a song sobbed…

The Indians lengthened, winding, through the alleys of the town.

A harp and a jacaranda were the music, and the smiling dark-skinned girls

Were the happiness

In the background, behind the “Zócalo,” the river shined

and darkened, like

the moments of my life.

He followed me.

I ended up crying, isolated in the porch of the parish church,

protected by my bolita shawl, drenched with my tears.


Reproduced in The Letters of Frida Kahlo: Cartas Apasionadas, ed. and trans. Martha Zamora, San Francisco: Chronicle Books, p. 9. 

August 03, 2010

CWWN Conference: Panel on Chicana/Latina Writers.

Title: “Chicana/Latina Writers Decolonizing Spirituality, the Body, and the Self

This was a very entertaining panel. The first paper from Christina Grijalva was on the performance artists Elia Arce and Grijalva talked about Arce’s use of inbetween spaces and places of transition in her performances. Born in LA, Arce lived from the age of two in Costa Rica and spoke Spanish. Returning to the US, Arce felt more like a resident than a native, but from this space of detachment, Arce is able to critique US institutions. This is the purpose of the performance The Fifth Commandment which riffs on the dictum ‘Thou shalt not kill’ in order to challenge the assumptions and routines at the heart of the US army.

Next Irene Lara’s talk discussed the mythical “Goddess” of the Americas, seeking to discover a Latina womanhood beyond the virgen or the puta. Lara focussed on writings in the anthology Goddess of the Americas edited by Ana Castillo. This book collects together the writings of women on Our Lady of Guadalupe, a mythic figure that has become in Central America not so much a counterpart of the Virgin Mary as a symbolic avatar of the Aztec goddess Tonantzin. The Virgin of Guadalupe is, as Lara Medina paraphrases:

Tequatlanopeuh (She Whose Origins Were in the Rocky Summit), Tlecuauhtlaupeuh (She Who Comes Flying from the Light Like an Eagle of Fire), Tequantlaxopeuh (She Who Banishes Those That Ate Us), Coatlaxopeuh (She Who Crushed the Serpent’s Head), Mother of Mexico, Mother of Orphans, Our Lady of Tepeyac, la Santa Patrona de los Mexicanos, Empress of the Americas, Mother of the True God, Mother of the Giver of Life, Mother of the Lord of Near and Far, Mother of the Lord of Heaven and Earth, Mother Who Never Turns Her Back, Sister in Suffering, Subversive Virgin, Undocumented Virgin, la tele Virgen, “the sustainer of life, the one who protects us against danger, the one who comforts our sorrows,” she who “understands everything,” Our Lady of the Cannery Workers, Vessel of the Indigenous Spirit, Madrecita, la madre querida, la Morenita, la Diosa, Guadalupe-Tonantzin, Ms. Lupe, la Virgencita, la Virgencita tan bella, the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Irene Lara discussed in detail the story ‘Virgencita, Give Us a Chance’ by Liliana Valenzuela and ‘Guadelupe the Sex Goddess’ by Sandra Cisneros . In both texts, women’s sexuality is reframed, so that desire is possible beyond the dichotomy of the whore and virgin. As Valenzuela writes:

La Virgencita swims, Venus in the water, her light robes appear and disappear. ... The monks in their white habits pray, raise banners, the miracle of the vulva is back.

Like the French feminists, the women writers discussed speak from the banocha to find a new language for women’s desire.

Last to speak was William A. Nerricio who also drew on the French feminists beginning his talk with a quotation from Luce Irigaray. He presented an entertaining paper on mirroring in the paintings of Remedios Varo , the diaries of Frida Kahlo and the novels of Cristina Rivera-Garcia . I’ll be excited and interested to read the final version of this when it is written up.

March 18, 2010

Frida Kahlo – Self Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky

Writing about web page

Here is a photo from my visit at the wonderful National Museum of Women in the Arts in DC. Frida Kahlo’s self-portrait dedicated to Trotsky stands alongside a sculpture by Barbara Hepworth and other wonderful works by women artists:

Frida Kahlo

For more entries on Kahlo, see this link .

February 14, 2007

Frida Kahlo's Masquerade

Kahlo - Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace

“For Frida Kahlo beauty was inextricably bound up with masquerade. In her self-portraits [...], whatever the degree of pain implied, by tears or wounds, her face remains severe and expressionless with an unflinching gaze. At the same time the mask-like face is surrounded by luxuriant growths, accoutrements, ornaments and familiars – a monkey, a doll, a hairless dog. The ornament borders on fetishism, as does all masquerade, but the imaginary look is that of self-regard, therefore a feminine, non-male and narcissistic look. There is neither coyness nor cruelty, none of the nuance necessary to the male eroticization of the female look. The masquerade serves the purpose of displacement from a traumatic childhood of the subject herself, ever-remembered, ever-repeated.

“Throughout Kahlo’s work there is a particular fetishization of nature, an imagery of fecundity and luxuriant generation which is clearly the defence against her knowledge of her own barrenness, one of the products of her childhood accident. Veins, fronds and vines often merge in the body itself. There are three modes of self portraiture: the body damaged, the body [157] masked and ornamented, the body twined and enmeshed with plants. In some paintings even the rays of the sun are incorporated in the web. Fruit in still lifes become part of the body, flesh-like, or skulls with vacant eyes. It is as though in compensation for her barrenness, and a defence against trauma, are condensed in pullulating images of cosmic and natural vitality sometimes counterposed with images of barrenness itself, of lava rock and broken ligneous forms.

“In a sense, nature is being turned into a complex of signs. Similarly the body itself becomes a bearer of signs, some legible, some esoteric. Masquerade becomes a mode of inscription, by which the trauma of injury and its effects are written negatively in metaphor. It is as if the intensity of the trauma brings with it a need to transfer the body from the register of image to that of pictography. The faces are read as masks, and ornaments as emblems and attributes. The discourse of the body is itself inscribed with a kind of codex of nature and cosmos, in which sun and moon, plant and animal, are pictograms. At the same time this pictographic effect de-eroticizes the imagery.” (157-158)

Mulvey, Laura and Peter Wollen. ‘Frida Kahlo and Tina Modotti’. Art in Modern Culture: an Anthology of Critical Texts. Ed. Francis Franscina and Jonathan Harris. London: Phaidon, 1992. 145 – 159.

Kahlo' s My Birth and Tlazolteotl

Kahlo - My Birth

Kahlo’s painting My Birth is particularly shocking in its cultural context, because it pictures Kahlo’s grown adult head emerging from the vagina of a woman whose face is covered by a sheet, a traditional gesture of grief or shame. Kahlo is literally situated as being born from a Chingada, a mother broken open, her legs splayed wide for all to see. (Brigley Thompson 2009: 204).

Further Reading

Brigley Thompson, Zoë (2009) ‘The Wound and the Mask: Rape, Recovery and Poetry in Pascale Petit’s The Wounded Deer: Fourteen Poems After Frida Kahlo’, Feminism, Literature and Rape Narratives: Violence and Violation. London and New York: Routledge, 200-216.

For more entries on Frida Kahlo see this link .

February 13, 2007

Malka Drucker on Frida Kahlo


The nightmarish accident was only the beginning of a lifelong battle with perations, crude corsets, infections, amputation, and eventually death. It was also the beginning of a remarkable series of paintings about pain and femininity, which sometimes became one and the same. In her art she reinvented herself freely again and again as saint, goddess, man, deer. If the purpose of art is to provide what life cannot, then maybe these stoic impersonations were ultimately a solution to pain. (Drucker, x)

Mexican culture accepts, even embraces, the magical or surreal. Life and death are closely linked in agricultural societies; fresh green shoots are part of the dying tree from which they emerge, so death, therefore, is not ugly. (Drucker, 25).


Frida who had always loved Dia de los Muertos, now embraced its customs for new purposes. She didn’t want death, or her fear of it, to take away her laughter or joy in life, so she dressed cardboard skeletons in her clothes, cal;led death by insulting nicknames, and had a skull painted with her name on it, all in an effort to defy suffering and death. Giant Judas [...] figures also took on fresh meaning for Frida. The huge papier-mâché puppets, lined with fireworks, usually in the form of the devil or skeleton to represent sin and death, are part of the celebration of Saturday of Glory, which falls on the Saturday before Easter. As despised enemies the figures are exploded in the town square to boisterous cheers, and in the year following her accident, Frida cheered loudest of all (29)

November 21, 2006

The Origin of The Two Fridas by Frida Kahlo

Writing about web page

Frida Kahlo - The Two Fridas

I must have been six years old when I had an intense experience of an imaginary friendship with a little girl .. roughly my own age. On the window of my old room, facing Allende Street, I used to breathe on one of the top panes. And with my finger I would draw

a “door”........

Through that “door” I would come out, in my imagination, and hurriedly with immense happiness, I would cross all the field I could see until I reached… (245)

a dairy store called PINZON… Through the “O” in PINZON I entered and descended impetuously to the entrails of the earth, where “my imaginary friend” always waited for me. I don’t remember her appearance or her color [sic]. But I do remember her joyfulness – she laughed a lot. Soundlessly. She was agile and danced as if she were weightless. I followed her in every movement and while she danced, I told her my secret problems, Which ones? I can’t remember. But…

from my voice she knew all about my affairs. When I came back to the window, I would enter through the same door I had drawn on the glass. When? How long had I been with “her”? I don’t know. It could have been a second or thousands of years… I was happy. I would erase the “door” with my hand and it would “disappear”. I ran with my secret and my joy to the farthest corner of the patio of my house, and always to the same place, under a cedron tree, I would shout and laugh Amazed to be… (246)

Alone with my great happiness with the very vivid memory of the little girl. It has been 34 years since I lived that magical friendship and every time I remember it it comes alive and grows more and more inside my world.

PINZON, 1950. Frida Kahlo. (247)

Frida Kahlo

Letter to Diego Rivera from Frida Kahlo

Truth is, so great, that I wouldn’t like to speak, or sleep, or love.
To feel myself trapped, with no fear of blood, outside time and magic, within your own fear, and your anguish, and within the very beating of your heart.
All this madness if I asked it of you, I know, in your silence, there would be only confusion.
I ask you for violence, in the nonsense, and you, you give me grace, your light and your warmth.
I’d like to paint you, but there are no colors [sic], because there are so many, in my confusion, the tangible form of my great love.


Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo. The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait. Trans,. Sarah M. Lowe. London: Bloomsbury, 1995. 205/42.

Extracts from the Diary of Frida Kahlo

I was lying – flaccid – running – revelry / without story reason / great haste mirrorlike / cardboard doll (204)

My skirts with their lace flounces and the antique blouse I always wore (...) paint the absent portrait of only one person. (209)

I don’t know what my mocking dream thinks. The ink, the stain. the shape. the color (sic). I’m a bird. I’m everything. without any more confusion. All the bells. the rules. the lands. the big grove. the greatest tenderness. the immense tide. grabage. water jar, cardboard cards. dice digits duets vain hope of constructing the cloths, the kings. so nails. the thread and the hair. the bantering nerve I’m going with myself. (213)

Only one mountain can know the core of another mountain. (216)

The day, or the hour, or the minute that I lived would be mine and everyone else’s (242).

ourselves – / variety of the one / incapable of escap- / ing to the two – to the three – / to the usual – to return to the one . / Yet not the _ sum_ / (sometimes called God (...)) (250).

I have been sick for a year now. Seven operations on my spinal column. Doctor Farill saved me. He brought me back the joy of life. I am still in a wheelchair, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to walk again soon. I have a plaster corset even though it is a frightful nuisance, it helps my spine. I don’t feel any pain. Only this … bloody tiredness, and naturally, quite often despair. A despair which no words can describe. I’m still eager to live. I’ve started to paint again. (252)

The quiet life.. / giver of worlds.. / Wounded deer / Tehuanas / Lightning, grief suns / hidden rhythms (272)

Frida Kahlo. The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait. Trans,. Sarah M. Lowe. London: Bloomsbury, 1995.

November 16, 2006

Claudia Schaefer on ‘Autobiography and Self Portrait: Images of Self, Images of the Other’

Frida Kahlo - Fulang Chang and I

From ‘Frida Kahlo’s Cult of the Body: Self-Portrait, Magical Realism, and the Cosmic Race’ in Textured Lives

Schaefer compares Kahlo’s self-analysis with Freud’s ‘talking cure’ and sees painting for Kahlo as a kind of therapy. In her paintings, Kahlo presents her own history, past and present, to create a kind of autobiography in art. Schaefer quotes Paul de Man who describes autobiography as ‘textual production’ (see ‘Autobiography as De-facement’, MLN 94 (Dec ’79): 919-930). Equivalent to written autobiography, these paintings are not a developmental narrative but offer ‘a permanent lack of equilibrium (22). Unsurprisingly, Schaefer plunges back into autobiographical readings suggesting that Kahlo’s ‘physical appearance’, Mexican background and her life experience were the wounds to be examined in Kahlo’s autobiography (23).

Now Schaefer considers Kahlo’s painting about Diego Rivera, who appears, according to Schaefer as an object of ‘obsession/possession as well as the Other’ (23). She refers to Self Portrait as a Tehuana and Diego and I as examples. These paintings also feature the third eye as a means to look in and out. Enhanced perception can also be seen in:
Thinking About Death (1943):
Sun and Life (1947):
• and The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Diego, Me and Senor Xólotl (1949).

Schaefer wonders if Kahlo’s desire for a third eye echoes Mexican politicians’ desire for insight into the future of their country and she cites Marxism Will Give Health to the Sick Schaefer ponders whether Kahlo was ‘becoming something akin to a martyr to a past era, caught between the celebration of the individual subject of “stardom” and the defence of collective utopian revolutionary ideals’ (24).

In any case, Kahlo makes a world of her own body and a metalanguage to go with it that includes: ‘native Tehuana costumes, tears, eyebrows transformed into birds’ wings, skeletons, fetuses [sic], hair ribbons, tropical flora and fauna, and the splitting or doubling of her own image’ (24). Her presence is ‘visible, concrete’ (24).

In thinking about the split between European and Mexican cultures, Schaefer quotes Janet A. Kaplan who has studied the 30s and 40s Mexican art groups: the European set (Varo, Horna, Carrington Gerszo) and the muralistas (Rivera, Kahlo, Orozco). Kahlo’s adoption of Tehuana costume is very significant in the light of these two rather antagonistic groups.

Kahlo often seeks identity in relation to others in her paintings: for example the conflict between men and women in A Few Small Nips . Often these paintings evoke a tension between the subject as autonomous or as passive object.

Kahlo often seems to observe herself as an object, not a subject, experiencing a detached consciousness of her own persona. ‘Frida’, with her unblinking gaze, swirling hair, joined eyebrows and tortured body, becomes the public identity of the real woman Frida Kahlo, much as her beloved Mexico reduces and institutionalizes the Revolution into icons for mass identification and consumption. (28)

Schaefer quotes Berger when he writes about the public and private split in twentieth century women. Similarly Kahlo ‘acts and simultaneously perceives herself acting; she paints and describes the process of painting through her product; she feels pain and watches herself react’ (28). However, Kahlo’s quest ‘to attain the paradise of a complete mental and physical body’ is also a ‘search in Mexico for a utopian social body after the Revolution’ (28).


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