Art and pain in Frida Kahlo Essay


Mexican painter Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo Calderón is considered one of the more essential music artists of the twentieth Century. Although born in 1907, in town of Coyoacán, she's changed the woman birth date to 1910, to pay for homage to your Mexican Revolution, aspect which well expresses the woman revolutionary nature. She ended up being the next daughter of Matilde Calderón y Gozález, catholic and of Amerindian and Spanish ancestry, and Guillermo Kahlo, photograph, Jew, descendent of Austro-Hungarian Germans1.

Frida's early experiences with suffering are caused by severe poliomyelitis sequelae, condition which impacted the lady when she had been six years of age. As effects she had right reduced limb hypotrophy and right base atrophy, which includes caused serious ailment towards the future musician for having been nicknamed «Frida wood leg». As with this, she started initially to wear slacks — later, long and exotic skirts — clothing which, later on, have become among the woman trademarks2. Between 1922 and 1925 she went to the National Preparatory class, aiming at learning medication, dream which was interrupted when she was 18 years old, after being taking part in a severe accident between a trolleycar and a bus, when she suffered several injuries and fractures which may have needed an extended data recovery period. This might be considered a determinant element for the dawn of the woman paintings. The mirror fixed on a canopy which covered the sleep allowed Frida to cope with monotony by portraying herself, making the variety of self-portraits an important section of her artwork1.

From then on, gradually, Frida would become an internationally recognized musician, in a trajectory colored by various experiences, particularly pain (accident sequela) which accompanied the lady throughout the woman life and misadventures of the woman intense passion the prominent muralist Diego Rivera, 21 years older, with whom she had an extended and turbulent relationship, high in betrayals. About the love she had for Diego, the painter reveals having been the woman worst suffering3.

Relations between art and putting up with — in Frida Kahlo — are, within perspective, inextricable. In reality, this manuscript promises to proceed through snapshots of Frida Kahlo's history and art — specially emphasizing intersections of latter with discomfort experiences — reflecting about major painter's artworks. For such, the literary works had been reviewed with defined search strategy — LILACS, Scielo and Pubmed — all owned by Health Sciences Descriptors (DeCS: — as well as the term Frida Kahlo. Limit date for the search ended up being February 28, 2014. Also, books related to the musician had been used as built-in an element of the literary works survey, in addition to the admiration of paintings obtained in portal Dining table 1 shows the total of quotes found (n=45).

Table 1 Literature search strategy

Search strategiesNumber of quotes per searched database LILACSPubmedScieloStrategy 1 — «Chronic pain» + «Medicine in art»05 Strategy 2 — «Chronic pain» + «Painting»010Strategy 3 — «Frida Kahlo»*82011

Note: *The term «Frida Kahlo», while not being a DeCS descriptor, had been included to have an increased number of texts on the subject.

Six texts supporting present investigation were selected, according to addition requirements — approach of aspects associated with Frida Kahlo's art, especially intersections with pain experience — so as to consider the aim proposed by the analysis. Other manuscripts — currently known by the writers — have complemented the literature review. Articles had been read and information had been organized in different sections — (1) «The 'origins' of Frida», (2) «The First Accident», (3) «The Second Accident: Diego Rivera», (4) «The Martyrdom of Frustrated Motherhood» — that will be presented below.


Frida's suffering phrase through the art has represented different moments of the woman life. Although using painting to translate the woman anguish in face of tragedies which have marked her existence, adversities along her way had not avoided the lady from being a dynamic girl, culturally and politically involved, aspect which is roared on her paintings.

The «origins» of Frida

Initial facets of Frida's trajectory of life are exposed in different paintings, particularly in My delivery (1932) and My nurse and I also (1937) — correspondingly numbers 1 and 2 -, in which its obvious the delicate connection between your painter and the woman mother. Matilde Calderón y Gonzales, child of a photographer of Indian ancestry, had been Christian and housewife. She was in fact engaged to a German who committed suicide in front of her to prove their love on her behalf. The further union with Guillermo Kahlo, also of German beginning, has not likely erased the memory of her first fiancé. He stayed in her memory — as well as in different reports — as her great love1.

Figure 1 Mi nacimiento (My delivery) — 1932. Oil on steel 30.5x35cm. Personal collection of "La Madonna". Consulted in

Figure 2 Mi nana y yo (My nursing assistant and I) — 1937. Oil on steel 30,5x37cm. Dolores Olmedo Patiño Museum, Mexico City, Mexico. Consulted in

Guillermo Kahlo, trader of photographic articles, came to be in Baden-Baden; professional professional photographer, he immigrated to Mexico when he was 19 yrs . old. Having been considered the «first formal photographer of Mexican social assets», Guillermo Kahlo is called a refined man enthusiastic about philosophy. He's maybe not founded an affective relation together with daughters, except with Frida, with whom he had been very affectionate. Additionally, Mr. Kahlo deposited in Frida his objectives of a great professional future, motivating girl's intellectual development and spirit of adventure. She used to come with him during his walks and amateur painter activities, and also being his confident. He additionally taught the girl to use a camera, develop, retouch and color photographs, experiences which will be ideal for her painter job.

Frida: Why perhaps you have married, papa?

GuilKahlo: Can't remember. To have you4.

The care of an Indian wet-nurse. In figure 2, the stone mask regarding the nursing assistant, along with the insufficient artistic connection with the baby, mirror the distance between caregiver together with girl5.

It really is expected, actually, that the lack of the caretaker, fact which will be verified by the significant website link of Frida because of the daddy — could be as «compensation» — had been also an encouraging and inspiring occasion for her creative awakening5.

Initial accident

Sequelae and disabilities caused by the accident suffered when she had been 18 years of age were reproduced in various moments of her life.

Pain is an embarrassing sensation, nevertheless required for survival. Physiologically, discomfort may be expression of any real or potential muscle injury6,7. Soreness definition by the Global Association the Study of Soreness (IASP) says that «pain is an unpleasant sensory and psychological experience expressed by the in-patient as representing a genuine or possible damage, or described in terms of such injury»8.

Sensory system for pain is broad. Because pain is an individual experience, its grasped that its perception varies based on the interference of a few factors, particularly ethnicity, sex and age, among others. Actually, discomfort experience is significant and its particular interpretation by people is multidimensional — acquiring various qualities and intensities — being expressed with various traits, established by affective-emotional, cultural, subjective and behavioral elements6,7. In an even more comprehensive conception, its admitted that pain is a symptom present in most conditions, be it as direct manifestation or being area of the diagnostic procedure and/ or therapy. Additionally, illness creates a situation of emotional pain, directly regarding the understanding of individual finitude and frailty7.

Guillermo Kahlo: how can you feel Frida?

Frida: I don't also remember just how it absolutely was before the pain4.

The reach of the woman suffering had been expressed — in creative terms — through exposed organs and bleeding bodies with scars9. In artwork The broken line (1944) — figure 3 -, Frida expresses the severe discomfort she felt. Inside painting, the artists portraits herself using a steel corset — that has been indicated to regulate pain — with emphasis to the woman open body were a Ionic line is placed broken in several places, symbolizing the woman damaged spine. Pain exists through fingernails pierced on her naked human anatomy, translating the endless martyrdom. Frida's body is split, bleeding, pierced and isolated, thus showing the physical torture that has never ever left the girl throughout life — "I don't even remember how it was prior to the pain"4. Solitude, represented by the wilderness scenario, reinforces the suffering of her condition. Inside efforts to relieve her own discomfort, she has been submitted to many orthopedic surgeries — intending at fixing the back — both in Mexico plus in the United States, without improving her complaints. The available human anatomy recommends the surgery10,11.

Figure 3 La columna rota (The broken column) — 1944. Oil on canvas installed on difficult dietary fiber 43 x 33 cm. Dolores Olmedo Patiño Museum, Mexico City, Mexico. Consulted in

Inside make an effort to explain the known reasons for her chronic discomfort, some authors suggest that Frida has endured post-trau-ma fibromyalgia, which will be characterized by persistent generalized pain, chronic exhaustion, problems with sleep additionally the existence of tender points in well-defined anatomic regions. This idea of fibromyalgia — particularly it's at this time comprehended — was perhaps unknown by doctors of early twentieth Century. It's been additionally recommended that nails pierced on her behalf human body could represent typical fibromyalgia tender points — «trigger points». This hypothesis would explain her chronic pain and deep weakness, and her poor healing response11.

Physician: Since when is your base like this?

Frida: Who knows. Let us go with one desgrace at the same time. Plaster me personally so i will paint.

Physician: That Is gangrene. I shall must amputate it. Lucky you that the leg is spared4.

The «second accident»: Diego Rivera

The artistic recognition and the Mexican and communist ideals of Frida and Diego are probably among the list of ingredients of extreme and troublesome relationship resided by both, filled with betrayals, hopelessness, pain and abandonment. Before end of her life, Kahlo has unconditionally liked Rivera and, as a consequence, her suffering ended up being therefore intense to the point of considering the relationship once the «second accident» of her life. The wedding of Frida and Diego was marked by a number of vicissitudes, three spontaneous miscarriages and three major surgeries — portrayed in many paintings in different ways1.

Several are the artworks expressing the anguish and suffering of dependence links developed by the artist, deserving unique attention a canvas which stands apart for the deep despair and delusion lived by the painter: one's heart (Figure 4).

Figure 4 Recuerdo (El corazón) (The heart) — 1937. Oil on steel 40 x 28.3 cm. Michel Petitjean Collection Paris, France. Consulted in

There, Frida illustrates a big broken heart at her legs, expressing, its thought, the intensity of her discomfort due to the romance of her spouse with her sister Cristina. This fact has reinforced the rivalry between both, considering that the early delivery associated with youngest sis — as already mentioned -, led Frida to feel by herself ignored, particularly due to the breakage of maternal website link between Frida and her mother5. It's similarly crucial that you comment that in this same artwork Frida has quick locks, ways to spite Diego. At her side you can find her European-style garments, making reference to the full time whenever she had been divided from Diego, whom preferred dresses associated with the Tehuana tradition. Her left base has ended the water with an apparatus and, together, they appear like a sailboat, making reference to a left foot suergery. Her school uniform at history could possibly be a representation of the time she met Diego, still a school girl.

Frida: With my sibling? You animal!

Diego: i'm a best, an idiot, however it didn't suggest a thing. Nothing! Speak to me personally.

Frida: I had two tragic accidents in my own life. The trolley automobile therefore. And you also were the worst4.

The artwork both Fridas (Figure 5), in special, portraits perfectly the pain sensation of separation. The canvas was painted after divorcing from Diego Rivera. Afterward, Frida has admitted your artwork ended up being the reflex of her feelings about her separation and of her psychological crises. The musician has painted by herself with two various personalities — through two other ladies — one represented by the Mexican Frida (to the right) — keeping an amulet utilizing the image of Diego as a young child — and an European Frida (left). These characters represent, correspondingly, the loved and respected woman by Rivera and one rejected by the painter. Within the painting, although simply the rejected component is at risk of bleeding to death, exposed hearts of both, connected by a blood vessel, mirror the suffering generated by the finish of the woman marriage12.

Figure 5 Las dos Fridas (both Fridas) — 1939. Oil on canvas 173.5 x 173 cm. Contemporary Art Museum, Mexico City, Mexico. Consulted in

Likewise, love delusion is shown in Self-portrait with cropped hair (Figure 6).

Figure 6 Autorretrato con pelo corto (Self-portrait with cropped hair) — 1940. Oil on canvas 40 x 28 cm. Museum of Modern Art of New York City, New York, United States Of America. Donated by Edgar Kaufmann, Jr. Consulted in

Here, the painter is sitting on a seat surrounded by the woman long hair, which fills the emptiness representing the loving mismatch. The verse of a track — painted across the top — reflect the sensation of getting rejected by the liked guy: «See, if I enjoyed you, it absolutely was for the hair, now you are bald, I don't love you any more». Additionally, the wide and dark guy's suit, instead of female garments which are distinct characteristics of the Mexican culture, constantly standing on her self-portraits, expresses the resizing of the woman femininity, therefore deep had been the woman suffering.

The martyrdom of frustrated motherhood

The impossibility of becoming a mother — a consequence of the pelvic fracture suffered inside accident — definitely ended up being basis for deep grief, well illustrated by the Henry Ford Hospital artwork (Figure 7) and by the dialog below (removed from film Frida):

Figure 7 Henry Ford Hospital (La cama volando) (The flying bed) — 1932. Oil on metal 30.5x38cm. Dolores Olmedo Patiño Collection, Mexico City, Mexico. Consulted in

Frida: I am pregnant.

Diego: Would your body support?

Frida: He (doctor) isn't positive.

Diego: i might hate to see you suffering.

Frida: i'm used to.

Diego: you may not want to have this baby?

Frida: Yes.

Diego: okay, let us you will need to have him.

Frida: Diego! The infant arrived in pieces. I would like to see my son4.

Right here, Frida portraits the sorrow regarding the 2nd miscarriage, through images packed with symbolism. Around her you will find six objects: an anatomic model of the pelvis, a fetus, a snail, an autoclave, an orchid and a bone pelvis. They are all linked by a red filament — possibly representing a blood vessel or an umbilical cable — that is held by the musician. The anatomic female pelvis model shows the notion of your body as simple organs to be inspected and manipulated by physicians. The completely formed male fetus represents this new life she had longed to possess. The snail alludes towards the slow paced miscarriage. The autoclave represents her concern with the probability that the accident had made the woman sterile. The orchid, Diego's gift, may refer to outside feminine genitalia, while the bone tissue pelvis suggests the inherent human anatomy frailty, as revealed by her accident. The conflict of frustrated motherhood is expressed by your body ambivalence inside her art. If using one part the body is a container for suffering, representing pain as a non-shared feeling, having said that, Frida artistically represents the woman body as a means of outside projection and sharing of her suffering. In this manner, through position, expression and exteriorization of the woman interior physiology, this woman is capable convey the whole complexity of her experience13.


Pain is expressed in numerous manners and its particular numerous shades are identified into the tradition, real attempts to give any sense to suffering. Life may be worth living supplied topics dominate their really wants to create, constituting directives and being really prepared to learn to live14. In this feeling, the art of Frida Kahlo intensively expresses a biography saturated in remarkable episodes.

Without the need for disguises or every other subterfuge, the musician paints genuine life experiences, whereby she's filled gaps — which presence hasn't filled or has filled with upsetting situations — perhaps as a way to translate the cruelty of pain. Although having the woman life characterized by serious physical and psychic suffering, this suffering ended up being elaborated and symbolized by the musician utilizing bright colors to handle discomfort. Frida had within the art the girl major comfort, transforming and creating the woman painful trajectory in a work which includes mirrored her own feelings about her existence.


Frida Kahlo Lovers. Web page focused on the Mexican painter. Consulted in, February 28, 2014. Paintings one of them article had been consulted within website. Frida Kahlo Museum. Consulted in, February 28, 2014.

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