Frida kahlo was a famous Mexican surrealist artist whose life was filled with physical and emotional pain, yet her enthusiasm for art kept her alive which can be seen through the quote “I am not sick, I am broken. But I am happy as long as I can paint” (Brown, nd). Her work can be described as hard as steel, fine as a butterfly wing, lovable as a smile and cruel as the bitterness of life (Frida,2002). All her work was inspired by the nature around her and the exquisite artifacts of Mexico which is apparent in her use of dramatic symbolism and bright use of colors (Li, and Yoneta,2018). One of the most eye catching painting after her terrible bus accident is the self-portrait which was dedicated to Dr Eloesser and was done when she was half paralysed and painted herself from her position in bed, using a mirror and a wooden structure to hold her canvas (Maddie, 2017). The first section of the essay will discuss the social context in which the art work was created in, followed by the political and then the economical context.
Frida Kahlo was seen to be very unique and different from other women in the society, she can be said to be the female feminist icon in the 1940’s. At that time in society women did not have the freedom to put forth their feelings and points of view. Brave, powerful and independent were words far away from what women then could be described as. They were objectified and were observed for beauty and attractiveness to please the men and in terms of visual art this was known as the “male gaze” (O’toole, 2011). Frieda Kahlo subtlety tries to break this which can be seen in the self-portrait dedicated to Dr. Eloesser- in which her hair and dress is just the way a typical women in Mexico would dress up as, but her face stands out stunningly due to her deliberately exaggerating her mono brow and mustache which creates gender confusion but at the same time her fierce expression expresses a sense of pride, strength and rebellious nature (Prop,2017). This act can be said to be Jacques Lacan’s mirror phase theory as Kahlo looks at the mirror and expresses what she feels towards herself in form of art which is not reality. This engenders that, she goes beyond the mere representation of her face and remains loyal to her inner consciousness and imagination (Dadvar et al., 2018). In consequence to this, the audience feel a sense of uncomfortableness and shock as women were never looked at the way Kahlo expressed herself. It was a male dominate society, which Kahlo, indirectly, took a step to change it.
Mexico is a state which is known for having a strong catholic identity, however, for around 70 years, in the 20th century the catholic church was outlawed: they weren’t allowed to run schools, own properties or defend itself in public or in the court (Leaf, 2012). This can be seen to have politically effected Frida Kahlo as she uses pain and realism to attract devotees to her painting. The color choices such as the mellow, pearly sky and the bright flowers in the self-potrait only accentuate Frida’s predicament. The richness resembles the way statues of Christ in Mexican churches were as they are often surrounded by flowers, gold, lace and velvet. Another form of symbolism is the thorns around her neck which represent “ Christ’s crown as a necklace” the thorns draw blood as if she presents herself as a martyr (Fakulta and umění, 2012). Moreover, her expression, expressed her to be strong during her tough time which is shown through the thorns pricking her neck.
Politics was also seen by the way she dressed. For Kahlo, clothes were a kind of language. Her choice of clothing was not just to please her husband Diego but had a political factor behind it (Thackara, 2017). She usually wore what Tehuantepec women wore which had a political element connected to it: Tehuantepec women conserved their traditional social structure in which women held political and economical positions, according to myth they represented a past that had escaped European rule, therefore sustaining a true uncorrupted Mexican society. this inspired Kahlo to enforce this and can be seen to be dressed this way in most of the paintings just like the self portrait dedicated to Dr eloesser. Even in a choice so simple, Kahlo was politically resolute and assertive ( Unm, nd) .
From the 1940’s to 1970’s Mexico experienced a change which is called the “Mexican Miracle” the economy of the country had grown tremendously. There was an average of 6% growth per year in 1940 to 1980. Part could be said due to the gradual increase in tourism. From the 1940’s, travelers have been attracted to Mexico to visit its artistic sites, the modern art galleries and museums (Saragoza, Paula and Dolores, 2018).
Frida Kahlo can be said to have a bit of contribution for this rise. Firstly, her paintings carried traditional Mexican cultural value such as the way she dressed, the jewelry and the lush vegetation which can be seen in the portrait above, instantly attracted tourist to visit . secondly she was the first Latin American for her art work to be put in the Louvre in Paris (Palazzolo, 2017). This made people curious to known more about her mesmerizing artwork. Another reason for the increase was the closeness that USA and Mexico developed and also through her surrealist art she attracted Andre Breton (founder of surrealism) who arranged a solo exhibition for her in New York.
The self portrait dedicated to Dr. Elloesser was just not a piece of outstanding artwork that Frida Kahlo gave him as a gesture to thank him. The art piece was connected to her culturally, politically and economically. Frida Kahlo was, and will always be one of the most unforgettable female icon due to her bold personality which changed the lives of many women around the world and also made a huge positive change in Mexico.