- Frida Kahlo, introduction
- Frida Kahlo, Frieda and Diego Rivera
- Kahlo, The Two Fridas (Las dos Fridas)
- Kahlo, The Two Fridas
- Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Monkey
- Rosa Rolanda, Self-Portrait
- Wifredo Lam, The Eternal Presence
- Lam, The Jungle
- Lam, The Jungle
- Hector Hyppolite, Ogou Feray also known as Ogoun Ferraille
- Latin American Modernism
Kahlo, The Two Fridas (Las dos Fridas)
Facial hair indelibly marks the self portraits of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. In an era when women still wore elaborate hairstyles, hosiery, and attire, Kahlo was a rebellious loner, often dressed in indigenous clothing. Moreover, she lived as an artist during a period when many middle-class women sacrificed their ambitions to live entirely in the domestic sphere. Kahlo flouted both conventions of beauty and social expectations in her self-portraits. These powerful and unflinching self images explore complex and difficult topics including her culturally mixed heritage, the harsh reality of her medical conditions, and the repression of women.
The double self portrait The Two Fridas, 1939 (above) features two seated figures holding hands and sharing a bench in front of a stormy sky. The Fridas are identical twins except in their attire, a poignant issue for Kahlo at this moment. The year she painted this canvas she was divorced from Diego Rivera, the acclaimed Mexican muralist. Before she married Rivera in 1929, she wore the modern European dress of the era, evident in her first self portrait (left) where she dons a red velvet dress with gold embroidery. With Rivera’s encouragement, Kahlo embraced attire rooted in Mexican customs.
In her second self portrait (left) her accessories reference distinct periods in Mexican history—her necklace is a reference to the pre-Columbian jadite of the Aztecs, and the earrings are colonial in style—while her simple white blouse is a nod to peasant women.
The self portraits from the 1930s reflect Kahlo’s growing penchant for indigenous attire and hair-styling, as is evident in Frieda and Diego Rivera, 1931 (below) and The Two Fridas. Yet Kahlo never abandoned dressing her subjects and herself in mainstream, European dress; her female relatives wear non-indigenous clothing in My Grandparents, My Parents, and I (Family Tree), 1936 (below). In this painting, the bridal dress Kahlo’s mother wears is reminiscent of the white, stiff-collared dress the artist wears in The Two Fridas. Indeed, the grotesque view into each woman’s insides is heightened by the virginal whiteness of both dresses.
In her brief lifetime, Kahlo painted about two hundred works of art, many of which are self portraits. With the exception of a few family trees, the double portrait with Rivera and The Two Fridas represent a departure in her oeuvre. If a self portrait by definition is a painting of one’s self, why would Kahlo paint herself twice? One way to answer this question is to examine The Two Fridas as a bookend to the 1931 portrait, Frieda and Diego Rivera. Though this painting was meant to celebrate the birth of their union, their tentative grasp seems to reflect Kahlo’s misgivings about her husband’s fidelity. By contrast, the double self portrait, though laden with suffering, exhibits resilience.
Anatomy of Two Fridas
The two Fridas clasp hands tightly. This bond is echoed by the vein that unites them. Where one is weakened by an exposed heart, the other is strong; where one still pines for her lost love—as underscored by the vein feeding Rivera’s miniature portrait—the other clamps down on that figurative and literal tie with a hemostat.
Kahlo's work often graphically exposes human anatomy, a topic she knew well after a childhood bout with polio deformed her right leg and a bus accident left her disabled and unable to bear children when she was eighteen years old. She would endure 32 operations as a result of this accident.
Kahlo utilized blood as a visceral metaphor of union, as in the 1936 family portrait (below) where she honors her lineage through these bloody ties. She returns to this metaphor in The Two Fridas, though with the added impact of two hearts, both vulnerable and laid bare to the viewer as a testament to her emotional suffering.
"I am the person I know best."
Photographs by artists within her milieu, like Manuel Alvarez Bravo and Imogen Cunningham, confirm that Kahlo's self portraits were largely accurate and that she avoided embellishing her features. The solitude produced by frequent bed rest—stemming from polio, her near-fatal bus accident, and a lifetime of operations—was one of the cruel constants in Kahlo’s life. Indeed, numerous photographs feature Kahlo in bed, often painting despite restraints. Beginning in her youth, in order to cope with these long periods of recovery, Kahlo became a painter. Nevertheless, the isolation caused by her health problems was always present. She reflected, “I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.”
Text by Doris Maria-Reina Bravo
Want to join the conversation?
- In my AP Art History class we talked about all the struggles Kahlo went through in her life and how her pain and suffering translated into her work. My teacher posed an interesting question, "Is it better to have a life of struggle, but still be remembered and talked about for centuries to come, or life a simple life without much struggle, but fade into oblivion?" For me, I think that struggle in life defines who you are, everyone goes through it on different scales. It's what you do with your pain that defines who you are for future generations. Let me know your thoughts and how you would answer the question posed!(43 votes)
- True, there are physical and psychological, visible and invisible struggles in life. People can admit the struggle fact itself or deny it. Fame, fading or vanishing shouldn't be the purpose for struggle.(16 votes)
- I recall learning that impressionistic painters and the like were well trained academically, but rather CHOSE to go a different route by painting in a new style. Was Frida Kahlo able to receive such training and thus choose as well to deliberately make these specific artistic choices? Or was this the only way she knew how to paint?(13 votes)
- Frida Kahlo never received any formal training, but her father taught her photography, and a friend taught her how to draw. Not to mention an artistic husband who had always been supportive of her work.
Tuchman, Phyllis. "Frida Kahlo." Smithsonian, 33.8 (2002): 53.(6 votes)
- Most interpretations of "The Two Fridas" is centered around Frida's relationship with Diego. When she painted it they were divorced. I believe that this painting is only marginally related to Diego/marriage/love etc. But rather, it is a statement on self-reliance. Frida Kahlo explored the idea of duality in many of work and in this one it's screaming of duality. Especially the dichotomy of external versus internal. I wrote an article explaining my take on this painting from a non-Diego obsessed perspective. I would love to hear your comments and what you think about my interpretation of Two Fridas. Here is my article "Living with Symbols: All Things Frida versus Fridamania": http://bit.ly/1MEBI6w(8 votes)
- she may have wanted to contrast different self understandings from different times in her life, as seen from yet a third time.(3 votes)
- When was this article posted?(2 votes)
- dis is old isn't it(1 vote)
- Yes. Frida Kahlo died many decades ago.(1 vote)
- what artistic period is this piece from?(1 vote)
- I absolutely love these paintings! Where are they exhibited?(0 votes)
- The Two Fridas is housed at the Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City.(2 votes)
- Why did frida never ever smiled?(0 votes)
- she didn't have many reasons to smile her paintings showed her inner emotions and hers were dreary and sad.(1 vote)