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Instrumentalist art is a concept that cannot be evaluated on true or false bases, rather, only as effective or ineffective material. It expands our understanding of how we find our mature selves and emotions. It is so powerful that it can explain not only how societies are, but also why they are the way they are. Nevertheless, once viewers make connections with this type of art, they see their reflections on those artworks. It connects emotionally and psychologically. From my prospective, I saw a reflection of many peoples' pains on Frida Kahlo's paintings. 'Frida Kahlo has been called a surrealist, a communist, a feminist and a bad painter' ( Havard 241). She had an uncanny ability to paint her emotions, committing to canvas, anger, pain, and emotional suffering. Pain is an extraordinary feeling that comes in response to an experience, seen or even told. Kahlo's paintings are a memorial to her sorrowful life experiences and a physical representation of her pain.
Frida Kahlo was born on the 6th of July 1907 in Ciudad de Mexico as the third daughter of William Kahlo and Matilda Calderon. Her life was struck by misery ever since the beginning. Kahlo's 'father was a German Jew, a photographer, and her mother was Mexican' (Kozloff 43) and their marriage was not happy. When Kahlo was six years old, she contracted poliomyelitis and her right leg was affected, appearing much thinner than the other throughout her life. At sixteen years of age she was crushed between a bus and a trolley where a metal handrail perforated her abdomen. After the accident, Kahlo underwent over twenty surgeries, including several spine surgeries and increasing paralysis. During the one year she was in hospital, she taught herself how to paint (Kozloff 43). At the age of eighteen, she started taking her paintings to Diego Rivera, the best known Mexican artist and muralist of his time. Eventually, they became friends and when she was twenty one and Rivera forty three they got married. The couple traveled to the United States and France, where Kahlo met luminaries from the worlds of art and politics. She had her first solo exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York City in 1938. Only one solo exhibition of Frida Kahlo's work was held during her lifetime. This was near the end of her life, long after she had produced her best work. Today her art is revered and admired for its sheer accessibility and timelessness; held in high regard by women, Latin Americans, artists and other marginalized cultures alike. Unfortunately, the couple's marriage did not last more than ten years which were years of struggle for both. Kahlo was not only active as a painter, but also as a politician due to her husband, Diego. 'She changed the date of her birth from 1907 to 1910 to make it coincide exactly with the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution' (Havard 242). During the 1940's Kahlo was one of the most active self-portrait artists in Mexico. In no genre do artists have more control over meanings related to humanity than self-portraits, where faces and bodies can be deliberately posed and controlled to reveal or conceal selected aspects of appearance, character and socio-political identity (Havard 242).
I chose Kahlos' unique self-portrait's: La Columna Rota (1944), Las Dos Fridas (1939) and Autorretarto con Collre de Espinas y Colibri (1940) to be a sample of her artwork expressing pain as instrumentalist art.
Autorretrato con Collar de Espinas y Colibri or as translated Self Portrait with Necklace of Thorns is an oil on canvas painting dated around 1940 and was done by Frida Kahlo. In the foreground of this painting, Frida paints the upper part of her body in a static frontal pose to enhance the propinquity of her presence. Furthermore, the upper part allows us to utilize a generative model that incorporates domain knowledge about her. She is wearing a necklace of thorns that is stitched into her neck with a dead black bird, whose wings are outstretched, hanging from it. The thorns are strangling her which causes her to bleed several drops of blood. This part of the painting resembles her restricted freedom and the pain she still feels over her divorce from her husband, Diego (Weston 92). She has painted dark eyes, framed by strongly defined eyebrows resembling a bird flying. Her face is emotionless and gives the feeling that she is subdued, and gives the viewer a feeling of melancholy. Frida's figure appears to be placed before the plants and two black animals, a monkey and a cat. The monkey is a symbol of the devil. The cat appears to be looking forward to eat the dead bird, symbolizes death and bad luck in many cultures. There are four flying insects over her head in a symmetrical V shape, a butterfly of each side, which gives the feeling of time and movement. Butterflies are another symbolic figure used in the painting to represent resurrection. The background is mostly covered by multiple large leaves which are clearly distinguishable, hard-edged and concrete with sharp metallic textures. Behind the leaves, the sky can be seen but there is no horizon or landscape which shows us the message is clear and accessible. The texture of her hair, face, body and background are smooth. The painting has no negative areas because of the simulated sunlight. Although Frida uses bright and warm colors for her figure, the dark cold colors of the animals and the dark green back ground are consuming the bright colors. Finally, Self Portrait with Necklace of Thorns is a self-explanatory story of Frida's restricted freedom and her inside pain. The sharp texture show how vulnerable the softer aspects of the woman are in the given environment.
This second self-portrait is called La Columna Rota (1944) or as translated to English The Broken Column. It is also oil on canvas like Self Portrait with Necklace of Thorns. It is in sharp contrast to her other self-portraits in that she is all alone, no monkeys, no cats, no parrots, no background of protective leaves and plants. Furthermore, a larger part of her body is shown with more feminine lines. The female figure appears to be placed before the background and her skirt swirls before her legs. She is holding her skirt as a reminder that 'she had polio, which left her with a withered right leg, from then on to be hidden in ground-touching skirts or trousers'(Weston 93). Frida stands all alone crying on a vast, baron plain beneath a stormy sky. Perhaps, it's her way of saying that she must deal with her physical and emotional pain on her own. In 1944, when Frida painted this self-portrait, her health had deteriorated to the point where she had to wear a steel corset for five months. She described it as a punishment (Weston 92). The white straps of the corset seem to be all that is holding the artist's broken body together and upright. Furthermore, the straps emphasize the female figure. An ionic column, broken in several places, symbolizes her damaged spine and directs our eyes upward. There is a horizon line that begins at her neck that further emphasizes the column and the tear in her skin as the main subject of the painting. The shapes suggest this woman is alone, vulnerable and in pain, but also that she is strong. An even more powerful symbol of her pain is the nails piercing her face and body. The degree of details of the nails suggests sharp metallic texture. The nails represent the physical pain she has endured since her accident. The larger nail piercing her heart represents the emotional pain caused by Diego. In the painting appears to be a simulation of sunlight on a cloudy or overcast day. However, the source of light is before and above the figure. The dark sky and land gives the feeling of depression or desperation. The majority of the artwork has more warm and local colors to represent the reality of the situation. The only hint of movement we get from this painting is the flow of the skirt before the female figure. Otherwise, the painting is very static. The clear message in this painting is that Kahlo is trapped by her very body into a life of little movement, pain, and harsh realities.
The two self-portraits of Frida Kahlo analyzed above have a great deal of similarities and differences. Starting with their differences, Self Portrait with Necklace of Thorns has more elements in the painting than The Broken Column. The first has a monkey, a cat and a bird as other figures beside Kahlo's figure. Furthermore, there is the heavy use of symbolism that acts as an international language of pain and other aspects of life such as death and bad luck. There is more movement and life in it than The Broken Column. The Broken Column shows more landscape, horizon and warm colors. More importantly, it uses more feminine lines that reflect the painter sexuality. In addition, a larger part of her body is shown which tells stories about her past. On the other hand, the similarities are quite obvious like both are self-portraits with a frontal pose. We can see the famous facial hair the 'hairy upper lip, exaggerated mono-brow and disfigured body, which is far removed from standard concepts of beauty' (Havard 242). In order to complete the exhibit we need to add a third painting by Frida Kahlo that companied the elements of the two previous artworks and add more. In the previous paintings there was not clear solution to her pain. Clearly, she has greatly emphasized her Mexican identity but what about her European part. She is a mix of distinct and very different cultures; her German, Jewish father and her Spanish, Indian, Mexican, catholic mother. So what is the resultant of her mixed culture? Many of the missing pieces of Kahlo's puzzle can be found in the third painting I have chosen, Las Dos Fridas.
Las Dos Fridas of as translated in English The Two Fridas which was finished just after her divorce from Diego Rivera. It is oil on canvas, dated 1939. One of the most famous and complete paintings by Kahlo is now hanging on the walls of the Museum of Modern Arts in Mexico City. In this self-portrait with imagery so odd that it evokes an almost dream-like setting, two Frida Kahlos gaze out expressionless, with a mask-like stare. On the right, the part of her person which was respected and loved by Diego is the Mexican Frida in a Tehuana costume. In her hand she holds an amulet bearing the portrait of Diego as a child. On the left, a European Frida in a lacy, white Victorian wedding dress represents the Frida that Diego abandoned. The women's hands touch, but their material link is represented in the artery that originates in the exposed healthy heart of the Mexican Frida, and runs to the also revealed, but diseased, heart of the European Frida. A severed vein that extends from the Victorian heart drips blood onto the white dress. The unloved Frida's heart is broken, while the other Frida's heart is whole. From the amulet that Frida is holding springs a vein that travels through both women's hearts and is finally cut off by the surgical pincers held in the lap of the rejected Frida. Desperately, the European Kahlo tries to stop the bleeding using a pair of scissors but it is no use. The two figures are sitting on a long chair and both are wearing ground-touching dresses. Furthermore, each personality has its own heart that is affected independently of the other. In the background, there is the white sky with the dark shades that give the feeling of depression. The horizon line is low and close to the back legs of the chair which forces the figures into the foreground. The texture in this painting is smooth with a great degree of details in the small objects like the scissors. The colors of the figures are very realistic, or at least coincide with reality. For example, the Mexican Kahlo's skin is darker in color than the European. This is a very static painting where we do not see much movement in the figures or the surrounding. From this painting we can say that the divided Frida Kahlo is weaker than any Frida we have seen. She had to make valuable sacrifices in order to overcome her pain and go on with her life. In this painting, she discusses her true, deep and continuous pain. Her pain was not her weak leg because of polio or the terrifying accident she had as a teenager also not losing her beloved husband and getting divorce. Clearly, such events are constraints in anybody's live. Kahlo's strongest pain was the struggle to find her true identity that was stolen before she was born. The rational for choosing this as my third painting is that it has the common elements in Frida Kahlo's works and adds to them the solution to her pain. This particular painting acts like the happy end of a sad story where the hero, Kahlo, saves her other half, Kahlo's identity in this case. There is the same sky, white clothing and vast landscape from The Broken Column. There is symbolism, the multiple figures and also the white clothing from Self Portrait with Necklace of Thorns. Before Las Dos Fridas there was no clear idea of how she actually identifies herself. From this painting, it is clear that her strong belief in her Mexican identity was a main factor that held her body together.
Frida Kahlo was an extraordinary artist that spoke the language of pain and reality. Kahlo's paintings are a memorial to her sorrowful life experiences and a physical representation of her pain where more than fifty self-portraits speak her story of pain. Those portraits are different the way Hollywood imagines woman. In every one of them there were the dark eyes, thick mono-brows and the moustache which are far from any standard of feminine beauty. Those iconic elements in Kahlo's artworks dealt with feminist and woman identity in a world ruled by men. We have seen the use of symbols to interact with different cultures like the cat, monkey and hearts that expanded the range of her fans to exceed the boarders of Mexico. Kahlo was not only an artist but also a woman and a leader who expressed her emotions and sent her orders using oil paint and a canvas.