circa 1945 mexican painter frida kahlo sits with her arms folded in picture  887669f4 c0c2 4152 a49e e61d48b0ab8e

Seen and Unseen in Frida Kahlo's Work

The iconic artist filled her work with symbolism.

Monkeys. Red ribbons. A broken column. Frida Kahlo squeezed symbolism into every square inch of her work. A self-portrait was never just a depiction of the static self, but rather an entire story to be uncovered. And as a woman, an artist, a communist, and a person with indigenous roots creating art in the 1930s, she brought the world a story that was not often heard.

THE RED RIBBONS AFP/AFP/Getty Images THE RED RIBBONS In 1932, Kahlo had been living in Detroit when she had a miscarriage. She created this painting, titled "Henry Ford Hospital," which surreally depicts the experience. In this self-portrait, the artist lies in a hospital bed and holds onto six objects, all connected with red ribbons. Kahlo used ribbons in her work frequently, literally tying together the different images to construct a narrative. Here she connects a medical cast of a pelvis, a fetus, a snail representing the slow pace of miscarriage, a mechanical device to symbolize the machinery of the body, an orchid representing both the sexual and sentimental aspects of miscarriage, and her own pelvis, which was fractured in a traumatic bus accident seven years prior and led to the miscarriage. THE BROKEN COLUMN Ruslan Shamukov THE BROKEN COLUMN Kahlo's 1925 bus accident is a recurring theme in her work. In 1944, she painted "The Broken Column," a self-portrait demonstrating the physical and emotional pain she endured. Painting metal nails in her face and skin, her spine replaced with a broken Ionic column, and tears falling from her eyes, over and over again Kahlo shows her suffering.
photograph of frida kahlo mexican painter holding a monkey she is the picture  7e276856 d48a 401a a7cc bf1dda521183
Bettmann/Bettmann Archive DIETER NAGL/AFP/Getty Images THE MONKEYS Nearly a third of Kahlo's paintings feature spider monkeys. The Aztecs associated monkeys with fertility, a theme that Kahlo deeply engaged with as she learned of her own infertility. Kahlo herself owned two monkeys as pets - one named Fulang Chang and another named Caimito de Guayabal. THE BLOOD Bettmann/Bettmann Archive THE BLOOD "The Two Fridas" (1939) shows Kahlo on one side in a white European dress with lace, and on the other wearing a traditional Mexican dress. The hearts of both Fridas are exposed, but one beats strong while the other bleeds openly. She painted this double self-portrait shortly after divorcing Diego Rivera, a time of intense emotional vulnerability. In the hand of the traditionally dressed Kahlo, she holds a tiny portrait of Rivera. The open bleeding is a stark representation of the heartache and pain she went through during the dissolution of their marriage.
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Roberto Serra - Iguana Press/Getty Images KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images THE HOLDING Kahlo's focus on fertility extended to her engagement with maternal imagery. "The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Diego, Me, and Senor Xolotl" depicts a series of holding: The universe holds the earth, which holds Kahlo, who is holding her husband, Diego Rivera. Similarly, "Dos Desnudos en el Bosque (La Tierra Misma)" shows a simultaneously romantic and maternal embrace between two women. It was a gift Kahlo gave to her friend and perhaps lover, Dolores del Rio. The holding in both works challenges assumptions around intimacy and sexuality, and makes room for different kinds of tenderness. DIEGO RIVERA Wallace Marly/Getty Images DIEGO RIVERA Kahlo and Diego Rivera's decade-long marriage was tumultuous. Between Rivera's love affair with Kahlo's sister Cristina, and Kahlo's love affair with Marxist revolutionary theorist Leon Trotsky, their relationship faced many tests. Rivera frequently shows up in Kahlo's work, in realistic and surrealistic ways. Sometimes she painted him by her side, and sometimes she painted him on her own forehead as a kind of third eye. The pain and joy of their relationship is visible throughout her work. Kahlo’s life ended by Rivera’s side. Upon her death, in 1954, Rivera looked back with extreme sadness. "Too late, now I realized that the most wonderful part of my life had been my love for Frida," he once wrote. visitor looks at selfportrait as tehuana or diego on my mind by picture  bca13b68 a97a 4d0a 8ab6 5078335f3b74 Sean Gallup/Getty Images