Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait in Velvet, 1926

Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait in Velvet, 1926, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Frida Kahlo, born on July 6th, 1907, in Coyoacan, Mexico City, Mexico! Perhaps one of the most recognized and influential of Mexican painters, Kahlo mostly documented her life through her work, which was plagued by personal tragedies and wrapped not so neatly in a cloak of Communism and Mexican Nationalism. Born to a German father and Mexican mother, Frida, born Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderon, in an attempt to move away from her German roots and to preserve her Mexican heritage, changed her name to Frida. When Kahlo was six she contracted polio, and was bed ridden for nine months. In 1925, at the age of 18, Frida was involved in a near fatal bus accident, which damaged her spine and left her in severe pain for the rest of her life, making her dependent on medications, endless treatments, and eventually being bed ridden until her death in 1954. Due to her prolonged bed rests, she became very familiar with her own body, thus making it the subject of most of her paintings. Largely regarded as a Surrealist painter due to her bizarre and at times grotesque imagery and linear execution, Kahlo is different from the text book definition of the movement. While surrealists such as Salvador Dali and Andre Breton incorporated dream-like and fantastical elements into their work, reminiscent of a wild hallucination or drug educed flashbacks, Kahlo painted exactly what she saw, which is a woman whose body is broken and unable to heal, as well as the artist’s newfound sense of nationalism and her troubled relationship with her husband, Diego Rivera. Kahlo first saw Rivera when she was 15 years old, as he was painting a mural inside of her preparatory school, and in 1929, seven years later, the two artists were married, after Kahlo sought Rivera out in order to get his opinion on her work. However, the marriage was plagued by Rivera’s infidelity and his increased involvement in the Mexican Communist Party. After their divorce in 1939, Kahlo painted Self Portrait with Cropped Hair, in 1940. In this painting, Kahlo portrays herself sitting on a wooden chair, dressed in what appears to be a man’s suit, perhaps even Rivera’s, as it is comically large, with her hair cut short, with most of it scattered around her on the floor, some of which she is holding in her left hand, while still holding the scissors in her right. As is true with almost every relationship that comes to an end due to unfortunate or painful circumstances, a drastic change, whether it is physical or metaphysical, is almost always what follows. With this work Kahlo is stripping herself of what is most iconic and treasured by River about her, the artist’s hair and colorful, traditional Tehuana dresses which she would don on for her husband. While she has cut her hair short, and is dressed in a man’s clothing, she is almost trying to become the very essence of Rivera, as at the time he was considered to be a much more sought after and established artist, which left Kahlo feeling that she, a brilliant artist in her own right, was living in her husband’s shadow.  Although never actually considering herself as a Surrealist, Frida did exhibit with the group in Mexico City at the Apparition: the Great Sphinx of the Night, widely considered to be the first Surrealist exhibition in the Americas. Pictured here is Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait in Velvet, 1926, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania  

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