Frida Kahlo was a Mexican woman who transformed her life by painting herself. For those of us living under a rock, the artist was well known for flouting every single part of the societal code of conduct at the time, with no lack of vigor and zero remorse. Many of her greatest works were self-portraits that expressed her emotional state at the time of their conceptions. Kahlo’s face is distinctive, with dark and brooding almond-shaped eyes, high cheekbones that lend a slenderness to its shape, well-defined red lips, dark ebony hair piled atop the head in braided crowns, and a lush unibrow that gave her expressions a more serious cast. Kahlo’s work often explores anatomical themes, such as those seen in her piece, The Two Fridas. She struggled with many medical issues throughout the course of her life, such as a deformed leg from polio and being in a bus accident at the age of eighteen; this particular accident led to a shattered spine which required upwards of thirty surgeries. The Two Fridas expresses young Kahlo’s struggle with heartbreak, depression, and the harsh reality of her recurrent medical issues after her divorce from womanizer, and contemporary artist, Diego Rivera.
In the painting sit the titular characters, adjacent to one another. The Left Frida sports a very traditional, high collared European style dress which features white lace, frills, pleats, and embroidered flowers on its ruffles. She sits regally, her face cheating to the front of the painting while her body is set at an outward angle to her partner. Her heart is exposed and superimposed on her chest. In her right hand she holds a hemostat, stopping the bleeding of exposed veins leading from the heart. With her left hand, she clasps her twin. The Right Frida has on one of the many nationalistic Tehuana dresses she was known to wear -which though more colorful than Left Frida’s- is still rather drab. Right Frida clasps a small amulet with a portrait of Diego as a child. Like her twin, Right Frida has veins coiled around her that connect the two of them and her enlarged heart sits outside her body. Unlike her twin, Right Frida’s heart is not exposed and transparent to the arteries. While Left Frida has placed red lipstick, blush, and darker lashes on herself, Right Frida appears fresh-faced and relaxed in her traditional garb. They sit on a low-lying green bench. The sky behind them is the murky color of evening hour lakes, grey clouds fill most of the frame and translate Kahlo’s inner turmoil. Holding her own hand, she is her only solace.
My interpretation of this imagery is such: Kahlo had very recently divorced from Diego Rivera at the time of the oil painting’s creation. She reminisces about her panzón, while feeling the unbearable pain and depression that she’s had to carry because of the marriage that broke her heart and the bus accident that made her have surgery all her life. The Two Fridas ended up being the piece that paid Kahlo the most during her lifetime. Left Frida is the heavily composed woman that Kahlo has had to be since their split, and though she’s clearly handling it, to an extent we can see she’s in deep pain. The Two Fridas depicts much duality as an affirmation of self within her works. The dark tone of the piece suggests that Kahlo is struggling within herself, most likely mentally as her dress and make up –her surface aesthetic, so to speak- are so well put-together. Based on my own study of her works in my free time, I can sense this repetitive theme of loneliness. Many of the paintings she’s composed show us that she keeps certain items and pets she loves as forms of protection against the deep-seeded loneliness and flailed pain within her heart. I believe that Left Frida would be the equivalent of “Present Frida,” and thusly Right Frida would be “Past Frida.” Right Frida is the woman in love with Diego Rivera at the beginning of their marriage, the strong one who unlike Left Frida has no damage to the heart though she still’s in physical pain, who sports her proud opinion in her proud traditional dress.
Article by: Kass Rodriguez-Urbas