“They thought I was surrealist. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.” – Frida Kahlo
Surrealism was inspired by the burgeoning science of psychology, especially its concept that the mind was made up of both conscious and subconscious parts. Surrealism involved freeing the unconscious realm of dreams and neurosis by combining images from the actual world and arranging them in such way that “worked against the logical and rational processes of making meaning.” (Sturken and Martin 463) The Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo was described as a self-invented Surrealist when her work was first introduced in a Western exhibition. However, the images presented in her paintings were too closely connected to the painful and emotional realities she faced in her own personal life to qualify as Surrealist. She refused for her work to be categorized under any defined terms, asserting that she painted not dreams but her own reality. On the surface, Kahlo’s life seemed full of color and excitement. She was acknowledged as a prominent and influential painter when few female artists were taken seriously by the mostly Western and male dominated art world. But under the surface, Kahlo’s life was far from pleasurable and consisted of numerous struggles and trials of pain. Without benefits of knowing psychology or being a member of the Surrealist community, Frida Kahlo’s emotional work explored the repressed images, memories, and symbols of her own unconscious mind.
In her one her most well known paintings, Two Fridas, her inner turmoil caused by her marriage and her conflicted affair with Mexico and the Western world are explored. The painting was completed after her divorce to Diego Rivera, another Mexican artist that had a great influence in her life. In the painting, two representations of Kahlo sit side by side with their hands joined in a stiff clasped with open hearts displayed outside of their bodies. The Frida on the right, the loved Frida wears Mexican clothes. Her skin is dark and her heart is complete and whole. In her hands she holds a miniature portrait of Diego Rivera from which a cord resembling a vein flows towards her heart. The Frida on the left, the unloved Frida wears a Western styled Victorian dress with paler skin. At the chest her dress is torn and displays a heart that has been cut out. Her hand holds a pair of scissors that appears to cut off blood to portrait of Rivera. This surrealist artwork of Frida Kahlo ties in with the definition of Modernism because it closely deals with the exploration of the self-consciousness. Large portions of her work are dreamlike portraits that serve as interpretations of her feelings towards stages and events in life. The subjects of her portraits are mostly representations of herself and display an underlining meaning and are open to interpretation by the viewer. She experimented with abstraction of natural forms in her self-portraits, ultimately, displaying a rejection of realism. Kahlo’s work also identifies with Modernism by applying usage of appropriation, the act of taking other’s work and using its means for one’s own ends. She practiced cultural appropriation by incorporated symbols and art from her Mexican roots. In Two Fridas, she displays her love for Mexico by displaying the loved Frida with a traditional Mexican dress. She had a fascination with Pre-Columbian art and amassed a large collection, which she felt was “a true wellspring for modern art.” (Ben Davis) “The symbols of Aztec culture -- the stepped pyramids, the sun and the moon, stone masks, images of indigenous people -- recur frequently.” (Davis) These Mexican traditional influences contrasted against the conditions of the emerging industrialized modern world. Frida Kahlo’s artwork is relevant to me because I believe it represents the artist as his or her own personal psychiatrist. She described her work as “therapeutic and one of the only outlets that helped distract her from her pain.” (Hayden Herrera 47) I admire her embrace of her own cultural roots within her artwork and her comfortable practice of painting herself on canvas. There is a mystique in her being comfortable with her quirky features, her unibrow, slight mustache and her usage of costumes. I also admire her courage in displaying the full range of her emotions while facing tragedy. Through her work she changed tragedy into beautiful works of art. I feel that if I had known her she would have been a very down to earth and passionate person. I believe this is what draws people to both her as an artist and as an individual. Her work translates within my own mind as what she viewed as “the power of great individuals to overcome society’s contradictions and remake reality through their own imagination.” (Herrera 56) I identify with this sentiment and I believe that artwork helps us as humans to be self-reflective and reach a higher sense of consciousness.