Her sharp and penetrating stare hides the deepest of pains and passions. A hint of a smile on her face becomes suggestive and intimidating in equal measure. She adorns her black hair with a braided crown of colorful and beautiful flowers. She's there, in front of a vibrant setting with many elements that contrast perfectly with the delicate embroidery of her dress. Of course, we're talking about Frida Kahlo, a strong woman that has become an emblem of Mexican art and female empowerment. She's perhaps the most famous female painter nowadays and, while much has been said about her life and her artistic vision, she's still an enigma for us.
Frida’s life is frequently focused on her tormented love relationship with painter Diego Rivera. Although their constant affairs are well documented, they had a very intense and passionate relationship that had much more to do with intellectual and artistic pursuits than with mundane passions. Well, of course, the latter was also very important. Frida Kahlo's unique conception of sexuality can sometimes be difficult to unravel, but if you look closely at her work, you can see her own colorful and lush vision.
Motherhood and fertility
“I paint flowers so they will not die.”
Frida's most recurrent obsession was maternity and the implications of creating new life. Motherhood is frequently represented in her artwork from explicit depictions of wombs and fetuses to flowers symbolizing the creation of life.
Flower of Life shows a mandrake turned upside down. The roots of the flower are shaped like female sexual organs. At the center, we can see an egg that is about to be fertilized with sunlight. She uses flowers because they visually represent both female and male organs: the petals, the center of the flower, and the filaments symbolize the womb, while the style and stigma are the phallus. At the same time, the communion of these elements represents conception. She based her work on the Pre-Columbian belief of the sun as the main giver of life.
Infertility and the obsession with creation
"My painting carries with it the message of pain."
It's well known that Kahlo suffered from chronic pain, a result of polio and the damages on her column after her accident. While her paintings capture key autobiographical episodes of her life, they also detail how her health affected her art and vision. Throughout her life, she suffered from several miscarriages, which she thought were a result of her injured spine and cervix. However, recent studies have found she had Asherman’s syndrome, a condition that produces intrauterine scarring. Her dream of becoming a mother was a recurring element in her paintings, and infertility became one of her worst heartbreaks.
In Hospital Henry Ford, we are confronted with a painful and highly confessional work of art. Here we see her lying on a bed and the images she weaves are all interconnected to the pelvis, the main cause of her grief. From that point onwards she would paint fetuses on her work, as a constant reminder of her loss. In The Love Embrace of the Universe, she shows off her maternal power by embracing Diego as a child.
Fruits and human sexuality
"Since my subjects have always been my sensations, my states of mind, and the profound reactions that life has been producing in me, I have frequently objectified all this in figures of myself, which were the most sincere and real thing that I could do to express what I felt inside and outside of myself."
Just like with flowers, Kahlo used fruits to represent human sexuality. The fruit cut open represents the vulva, while the seeds symbolize the sperm. The idea of conception or creation of life is depicted in subtle and not so subtle images. In Still Life with a Parrot and Flag, the pole can be seen as a depiction of the accident that pierced her womb and spine.
Frida's Love's and Passions
“Pain, pleasure, and death are no more than a process for existence. The revolutionary struggle in this process is a doorway open to intelligence.”
Frida and Diego's affairs with other people are well-known and also proof of their turbulent and unconventional relationship. In Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, her face is immutable, regardless of the thorns that are choking and cutting her. The animals that envelop her speak of her wild nature and desires, and the bright butterflies fluttering around her speak of passion for life.
While many maintain she had sexual relationships with both men and women, what is true is that she considered sexuality as something that went beyond mere intercourse. It spoke of creation, life, and, of course, her wish to conceive and become a mother. This obsession was a constant in her life and was beautifully immortalized in the bright shapes and colors of her canvases.
Frida Kahlo has become an icon and an emblem; her life and experiences are still seducing spectators to her work due to the opened representations of herself. If you want to see more of the symbolisms she uses on her work, take a look at these 4 Elements That Will Help You Understand Frida Kahlo’s Paintings. You also might find interesting these Nine Places That Changed Frida Kahlo’s Life.