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Frida Kahlo : Self-portrait as catharsis

Illustration: Nickolas Muray, Frida Kahlo on a bench, ca. 1938, photograph, carbon colour print, ed. 29/30, 29.2 x 36.8 cm, private collection

Today, I propose that you meet Frida Kahlo (1907-1954), a famous Mexican artist, probably as famous for her self-portraits as for the multiple handicaps she suffered in her life and transcribed in her art.

A self-taught painter in a post-revolutionary Mexico in search of a new national identity, a companion of Mexico's greatest muralist, Diego Rivera (1886-1957), a muse to photographers and surrealist artists, Frida Kahlo had an unclassifiable and uncommon destiny, driven by a vital need to externalise her experiences through hundreds of canvases, of which ⅓ were devoted to the representation of herself.

Illustration : Poster for the exhibition "Frida Kahlo - Beyond Appearances" at the Palais Galliera

This obsessive impulse, rediscovered and reappreciated since the 1970s thanks to feminist studies and currently under the spotlight at the Palais Galliera in Paris, by the exhibition “Frida Kahlo - Au-delà des apparences”, will be the main subject of this series of posts.

Indeed, through the exceptional richness of her painted and dressed production, and the numerous photographs of the artist, we can observe a particular example of an artist who has deeply exploited the self-portrait in all its aspects and this, with a precise aim: catharsis¹.

Illustrations: series of self-portraits by Frida Kahlo

It should be remembered that out of a total of 143 paintings, the self-portraits represent more than 55 paintings that specialists have interpreted as an attempt to regain her freedom, by representing her body through her own eyes, in a process of self-analysis. Creating her own doubles, multiplying her different skins and faces, never limiting herself to simple representations of herself or of the world around her, the artist will in fact exploit the self-portrait as a catalyst to compensate for her handicaps and the various trials she had to face.

To understand who the artist was, and why she had this deep need to represent herself, I will address in the next post some elements of biography related to the artist's youth. Indeed, evoking the most important events of Frida's early life will allow us to find the link between the origin of her emotions and their pictorial transcription, because very often, we can see that most of her paintings were born during the most tormented periods of her life. In a third publication, we will examine a number of self-portraits, which we will classify into several genres, depending on whether the artist is expressing her physical and psychological pain, or the events that occurred in her personal life and their impact on her art.

I hope I have inspired you to learn more about Frida Kahlo's life and that you will follow the next posts about her with enthusiasm!

¹ Greek word meaning "purification", meaning "purification of the soul or purgation of the passions of the spectator by the terror and pity he/she feels before the spectator of a tragic destiny". Another psychoanalytical definition this time: "Therapeutic means (e.g. hypnosis, suggestion, etc.) by which the psychiatrist leads the patient to liberate him/herself from repressed emotional traumas".

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