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ELVET Est. 2013


Editor’s Note Welcome to the first edition of ‌...

CONTENTS Frida Kahlo: Icon of the Beauty– Pain Paradox pg.4-5

Frida Kahlo: Icon of the Beauty-Pain Paradox


t appears to have become a truth universally accepted in our society that in the quest for beauty and perfection, one must submit oneself to a certain degree of pain. This could not been more appropriate for the artist Frida Kahlo. Living in the shadow of the great Diego Rivera, it is not only through her exotic lifestyle, but also with her works of art that she sought to stand out from the crowd. Indeed, it is impossible not to notice the way she interweaved her iconic mono-brow and indigenous dress into her paintings to assure her lasting legacy.

mother and the multiple affairs of her notoriously philandering husband, Diego Rivera. Nevertheless, it was in 1932, the year of Kahlo’s second miscarriage and the death of her mother, that Rivera encouraged her to create a series of paintings relating to prominent events in her life. This artistic pursuit led to the creation of some of Kahlo’s most famous works and ultimately gave rise to the recurring portrayal of pain within her work. One of these paintings is entitled Henry Ford Hospital (1932) and depicts Kahlo’s miscarriage. She finds herself abandoned on a bed amidst a barren and phallic industrial landscape surrounded by Her life was undoubtedly an eventful one, moving in artistic cir- six images: a fully formed male foetus, an orchid, a snail, a fecles and having affairs with both men and women, yet regretfully male torso, fractured pelvis and an autoclave. marked by pain. At a young age she had to abandon her aspirations to study medicine on account of a bus crash which crushed Is important to consider the symbolism of these images to fully her spine and pelvis. The injury acquired from this accident lead comprehend the harrowing extent of this nightmare. Firstly, the to multiple miscarriages and ultimately the inability to bear chil- fully formed male foetus is there to represent the dren. Although she subjected herself to many further operations ‘Dieguito’ [little Diego] she yearned for, but reluctantly accepts in the hope of remedying the situation, they only exacerbated her she will never be able to bear. agony. If this were not enough, her physical pain was all played out on the emotional turmoil that she faced with the death of her

The orchid is said to be a gift from Diego and appears to add some exoticism to the scene. The snail has two functions. On one hand it is an Aztec symbol for pregnancy and child birth, yet conversely is a Christian symbol for a sinner perhaps displaying emotions felt whilst depicting her own miscarriage. In her diary, Kahlo claimed that the torso was her ‘idea of explaining the insides of a woman’ whilst the autoclave acted to represent the menacing mechanical nature of it all. Finally, the fractured pelvis symbolises the reason why she cannot bear a child: the bus accident that crushed her pelvis. Ultimately, all these images are connected via a sanguineous umbilical cord to the most striking image: Frida. The naked body represents a certain vulnerability and the nature of her body is contorted as she writhes in agony. If we look, however, to her face, beneath the iconic Kahlo monobrow, we see large tears fall from her eyes. These visual displays of sorrow and pain are not uncommon in Kahlo’s oeuvre. For example, in terms of physical pain Kahlo’s injured spine and pelvis are overtly referred to in not only The Tree of Hope (1946) with the scar on Kahlo’s lower back, but also in The Broken Column (1944) where Kahlo’s spine is replaced by a crumbling ionic column. Her stoic positioning in the centre of the painting dominates, once again, and the barren landscape is subverted by her pain. Nails penetrate her entire body. In fact, the nail becomes a metaphor for pain itself, with the larger nail being in the place of her heart, representing the pain caused by her husband. Kahlo herself claimed that there had been two accidents in her life, one was the crash, the other Diego and that the latter was by far the worst. The final touch to this image of agony are the tears that once again pour from her eyes. During this period, it became quite common for Kahlo to draw tears onto photos of herself, once again reflecting the pain she felt so profoundly. Nevertheless, it is, perhaps, the intimacy of her paintings, the way her eyes in her self portraits reflect her pain, that adds to the beauty of them. Indeed, it was Keats who claimed that “beauty is truth, truth beauty” and perhaps it is due to the sincerity of her own self portrayal that we are so attracted to her works. In our society, we are bombarded with air brushed images of how women should look and behave, yet Kahlo’s image, to this day, continues to sub-

vert this portrayal of manufactured beauty. It might be useful to consider this idea in light of her 1940 Self Portrait with a Thorn Necklace indeed, as custom, she embraces her mono-brow and moustache (the shape of both is reflected in the wingspan of the dead hummingbird). As far as we can see, her costume itself is simple and that instead of garish costume popular jewellery of the epoch she is adorned by nature. Nevertheless, ironically, this beauty is underlined by pain reflected in symbolisation of the selfportrait. The hummingbird in Aztec folklore was meant to bring luck in love (rather ironic since this portrait was painted whilst divorced from Diego) and the black cats lurking on her shoulder, in contrast to western custom, were a symbol of bad luck and ultimately death. Moreover, the necklace of thorns evokes sentiments relating to the passion of Christ and at the same time acts as a referent to the Aztec goddess, Coatlicue, who is commonly displayed with a severed neck just as Kahlo’s neck is pierced by the thorns. Coatlicue gave birth to Huitzilopochtli, yet was killed by her son’s siblings. Any symbolism of new life (foundation of Aztec empire by Huitzliopochtli and the butterflies as symbols of resurrection), is overshadowed by the darker references. For me, there is something about her eyes that connects with the viewer, that reveals her inner feelings, which in spite of the heavy symbolism, seem to hide behind the icon she has made of herself. The extent of Kahlo’s status as an icon has been summarised by the term Frida-mania. Over the years she has become a symbol for feminists for the way in which she idolised the stoicism of Tehuana women and subverted traditional gender roles; an icon for the LGBT movement for her open sexuality and cross dressing; an idol with her apotheosis to Santa Frida; a trend -setter with Vogue paying homage to her adoption of indigenous dress. Indeed, her face appears on mouse mats, a feature film, numerous documentaries, posters, one can buy one’s own Frida Kahlo moustache or even a Frida Kahlo Barbie doll. For me, it appears rather ironic that Kahlo iconography should have become such a product of the Gringolandia that she so despised (see My Dress Hangs There and Self portrait on the Borderline between Mexico and the U.S.) and causes me to question what does this face really mean to those who have adopted her as their idol? What does she symbolise for them? In my personal opinion, Frida was a maverick who, in spite of her pain, faced life and lived it to the full. Indeed, through the medium of painting she makes herself the epitome of suffering. There is a certain truth in the way in the directness of her artistic style and perhaps the beauty is in the way that she can display the intimate, painful and often brutal side of herself that we so often struggle to accept in ourselves. By Eleanor Stefiuk

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