Frida Kahlo is “the first woman to turn her body into a manifesto, to exhibit her own femininity in a manner that was direct, explicit and occasionally violent, revolutionising women’s role in art forever”. Her body becomes the means to explore themes such as gender identity, a displayed femininity (a body that becomes both sacrificial and political), physical and mental suffering (her representations vary from minimal beauty to horror and macabre), her Mexican origins and the pre-Hispanic traditions.
Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird it’s one of 55 reflective self-portraits (out of 143 paintings) that Frida Kahlo painted in her lifetime. Painted after her first divorce from Diego Rivera, every symbol in this painting gives specific clues to Frida’s mental state: this is a painting about suffering.
Even though Kahlo was not Christian, the necklace refers to Christ’s crown of thorns; in line with this interpretation, the butterflies and dragonflies could symbolise her resurrection. The hummingbird -whose wings shape echoes the artist’s eyebrows- could be referred to both Mexican and Aztec iconography. In Mexican culture it’s a symbol of hope and good luck. As Huirzilopochtli it symbolise reincarnation and represents the souls of warriors that died in battle, but also of prisoners killed on the sacrificial altar; a symbol of war (maybe it’s the battle she’s fighting that make her bleed). The bird is also endangered by the presence of the black cat, symbol of bad luck.
The thorn necklace, that makes her neck bleeding, is held by a black monkey; this could be a symbol of Diego, since it’s inflicting pain upon Kahlo and Rivera actually gave her a spider monkey as a gift.
Frida Kahlo always created relationships between the somatic and the natural elements. Here the claustrophobic landscape, which normally symbolises fertility, contrasts with the deathly imagery in the foreground.
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Frida Kahlo y Diego Rivera, footage
“Frida Kahlo: Beyond the Myth”, exhibition at Mudec (Milan).
If you love this artist or want to know her more, we highly recommend you to go. It’s beautiful, it’s intense, it’s painful sometimes. And it’s unmissable.
*all quotes are from this exhibition.