Frida Kahlo, one of Mexico’s most important artists, understood the power of a selfie well before it became a pervasive part of popular culture. Kahlo’s paintings often shifted the viewer’s perspective beyond her self-portraits to offer personal and societal commentary, both subtle and overt.
“I am happy to be alive as long as I can paint,” Kahlo said.
Some of her artistic themes were highlighted in “The Two Fridas,” a 1939 oil painting that shows two seated Kahlos holding hands. Near-mirror images, they reflect love and loss and ideas surrounding beauty. The two hold hands, connected by shared veins that flow to their exposed hearts. One heart appears to be broken, with blood splattered on Kahlo’s lap from a cut vein.The other is intact with blood pumped to a framed photo of Diego Rivera, the celebrated muralist with whom Kahlo had a tumultuous marriage and had divorced that year. (The couple remarried the following year.) Together, the two Fridas suggest the physical and emotional toll of the divorce.
Frida Kahlo’s 1939 oil painting “The Two Fridas.” Credit All Rights Reserved 2016 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Kahlo expressed herself in dress as well, using her raiment as both adornment and armor. She embraced traditional Tehuana clothing, which in her paintings was often interpreted as a symbol of female authority. The choice to wear it in self-portraiture was a nod to her own fortitude. The style’s floor length skirts also allowed Kahlo to conceal her damaged leg, a result of polio as a child. It was amputated later in life.
If her clothing was an embrace of cultural identity, her signature unibrow and her wispy mustache were in some ways a rebuke to conventional standards of beauty.