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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Frida Kahlo

The surrealist movement of the 1920s was mostly a male oriented phenomena.  Names like Dali, Magritte, Ernst, and Miro were exploring the male psyche.  The only feminine elements were sexual in nature as related to Freudian oedipal feelings and the liberation of the male imagination. Any women displaying in Surrealist exhibitions were usually those romantically involved with the men in the group. Women like Lenora Carrington, who painted eerie dreamlike self-portraits regarding her May-December relationship with Max Ernst, were at best peripheral to the movement--an interesting side shows to their male counterparts.   
One who was not was Frida Kahlo. Born in 1910 near Mexico City, a nearly fatal trolley accident when she was fifteen destined her to a crippled life of almost constant pain. Although she was married for ten stormy years to Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, whom she later called her "second accident", she was in no way a shadow of her husband, who was not, after all, a surrealist. Her work stands beside the best the surrealists had to offer, her style distinctive, her paintings as powerful and personal as any Freudian nightmare of Dali or Andre Masson. In spite of this, Kahlo never embraced the Surrealist label, claiming to be painting not dreams, but her own reality.   
The Two Fridas, 1839, Frida Kahlo
Probably her most vivid exploration of the reality of her painful existence was her double self-portrait, The Two Fridas, painted in 1939 for a Mexican Surrealist Exhibition about the time of her divorce from Rivera. The painting pictures one Frida, dressed in a Victorian white gown representing her German heritage, holding the hand of the other Frida in traditional Mexican dress. (Her mother was Mexican.) In both figures, her heart is exposed and her circulatory systems are intertwined. An artery begins with a cameo of Diego Rivera the Mexican Frida holds, and ends in the lap of the German Frida holding forceps but unable to stem the flow of blood. A stormy photographer's backdrop echoes her father's occupation and her marriage. Later that same year, through Rivera, she met Andre Breton, the French writer who founded the Surrealist Movement, and whom adopted her as one of his own. He was instrumental in arranging shows for her in New York and Paris. She died in 1954.  Today she is regarded as the preeminent female painter in Mexican art history. 

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