The Disturbing Truth:
Frida Kahlo’s My Dress Hangs There
Art is not always pleasant, but neither is society. Art and society have a reflective relationship with one another. During social, religious, and political controversy, artists such as Frida Kahlo incorporated imagery into their portraits of society which are often disturbing to the viewer. The role of an artist often includes acting as a social critic, to show us aspects of our cultural landscape that are unpleasant. In this manner, the art acts as a commentary on the negative aspects of Western civilisation. During the thirties and forties, Kahlo incorporated the hidden realities of economic and social depression into her works. Frida Kahlo was a Mexican artist, most often recognized for her series of self-portraits. These works explore the physical and emotional agony that she endured during her short life. Frida’s works, arranged chronologically, could serve as a pictoral summary of her life, political and social developments, and subsequent resolutions. She endured many tragic events including acquiring Polio, a debilatating accident, an unfaithful marriage, and a slow, painful death. Her career as an artist was overshadowed by the success of her husband, Diego Rivera, and never given significant attention until the Feminist movement in the sixties, after her death. Stylistically, Frida’s paintings seem to follow the Surrealist movement, however, she was never acknowledged as an official member. André Breton, founder of the movement, assisted in the organization of her Exhibition. In the later years of her life, Frida made a living from her work, although most of her accomplishments as an artist were after her death. Frida was the first Mexican artist to sell a work for more than $1 million and also the first to have work purchased by the Louvre in Paris.
Frida’s involvement in Politics began at an early age with her enrollment at the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria, one of the best schools in Mexico. Frida was one of the first thirty-five women out of two-thousand students to attend. A chance meeting with Diego Rivera introduced Frida to love, art and politics. Their marriage would secure her a role in the Communist party, and further her involvement and awareness of social and political injustices. Upon visiting the United States in the thirties, Frida was repulsed by Capitalist structure and influence. Her work, My Dress Hangs There (1933) [Fig.1] explores her perspective on American society as I will elaborate in further discussion. In the analysis of the aforementioned work, I will refer to three different interpretive methods; Semiotics, Psychoanalysis, and Feminist/Gender Studies. These three methods will provide unique perspectives for the study and interpretation of her painting. The first method I have chosen is Semiotics. This perspective generally focuses on symbolic value. Many artists have mastered the combination of visual imagery with social commentary. The unity of physical elements with spiritual, personal or social issues is what gives art value in the Modern world.
In the use of semiotics, we are urged to consider the elements of art that may be signifiers of a deeper meaning (Roland Barthes 47). These signifiers may include the obvious symbolic physical elements incorporated into a work of art, the perspective used by the artist, the subjects and environment of the painting, as well as any other attributes perceived while looking at a work of art. Rolan Barthes discusses the concept in his article “Rhetoric of the Image”. He compares the imagery of art and language. His intentions are to “…submit the image to a spectral analysis of the messages it may contain” (Pg. 32). Whether a specific symbolic message is intentional by the artist or not is unique for each work. However, it is clear, that in every work of art, there is something to be derived. Analyzing a work of art involves considering all aspects of its content and...
Bibliography: Herrera, Hayden. Frida Kahlo: The Paintings. Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 1991.
Laux, Peter. Famous Mexicans on their Stamps. Frida Kahlo: A Tormented Soul on Display. Mexicana, The Journal of Mexico Elmhurst Philatelic Society International, January 2002.
Trudell, Megan. The Passion and Politics of Frida Kahlo. Socialist Worker Online, issue 1955. June 11, 2005.
Whittaker, Harry. The Frida Kahlo Exhibition at the Tate Modern: A brief biography and review of her works, Oct 7, 2005.
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