"Self Portrait with Hummingbird and Thorns" Frida Kahlo 1940
"I leave you my portrait so that you will have my presence all the days and nights I am away from you." -Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter who suffered from severe pain in which her spine, pelvis and foot were crushed in a bus accident. Through her recovery, Kahlo began to paint. Pain became a consistent characteristic in her paintings. She eventually married a man named Diego Rivera. During this time she painted murals at the Institute of Arts in Michigan, however, she did not stay in this genre for long. After her divorce with Rivera, she began making self-portraits documenting her grief.
There is many symbolic imagery in her pieces, that relate to her ex-husband and how she felt after the divorce. She paints herself as though she were a martyr with the thorns from Christ’s head placed around her neck piercing through her skin. The dead hummingbird across her chest parallels her unibrow. Many of her painting are very symmetrical in nature, yet still unsettling to the eye. Because of the unusual placement and imagery in her paintings, she was called a Surrealist painter. Through the different sources I found, it seemed that some were certain on the symbolism and others were not. From what I understood, the black cat represents death and pain. The monkey was a gift that Rivera gave to her and it is holding the thorns, signifying the pain that he gave to her. These now make more sense now that one understands the significance of the animals and other elements. As a muralist painter, it is very often in which they will paint on a two dimensional plane, yet adding many layers and images into the scene.
Frida Kahlo’s piece is not autonomous. There is so much meaning and history behind her painting that this art cannot stand alone. Even the fact that she is Mexican and all the history that was happening during her time is very significant to her work. A good question would be, Is this work as significant without certain imagery? I actually prefer it without because the symbolism is so morbid and full of pain. When I see the image, I interpret it as unseen beauty. I tried to display that even though I do still want to replicate the work. Each artist brings their own interpretation to the piece. It is odd and unnatural, it makes the viewer wonder. Kahlo went through so much pain, it is understandable that most of her work branched from this sad emotion.