100 Days of Art History Jinjins


Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird

Frida Kahlo's work pulses with life force across time and space. As another serial self-portraitist, how can I not love her?

She makes herself into an archetype here, and uses symbols that feel mysterious and laden with meaning (the hummingbird, the thorn necklace, her pets, the leaves behind her). I wanted some of that profundity and mystery for myself, so I put myself into this self portrait.

I had no problem repalcing Frida Kahlo's face with my own when I first drew this--I felt like she was so iconic that everyone would know who I was referring to with the image. But I never did another Kahlo piece, because I felt a little weird erasing another marginalized person to insert myself. Her work is also so obviously personal. All of the symbols were of animals or objects she really saw in her everyday life, and probably had highly specific meanings to her. I stripped that away by adding myself and reduced it all to a shallow aesthetic. It was a flawed approach.

After this entry, I learned more about Kahlo. I really enjoyed learning more about her alongside two other North American women painters working at the same time in Carr, O'Keeffe, Kahlo: Places of Their Own. I also saw her wardrobe at the Brooklyn Museum's Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving exhibit and really enjoyed the insight it gave into her art and psychology. She was disabled and often bedridden, but took extreme care of her appearance. I felt like fashion and making self portraits were ways to exert control over both an unruly body and societally-imposed perceptions of women like her.

I also enjoyed this talk by the Harry Ransom Center which is about this painting specifically. It delves into her connection to nature and folk art. I was especially interested in the points raised about how her artistic practice seems to be taken less seriously and studied less than the drama of her personal life. The talk emphasized her as an intellectual exploring Mexican national identity and pushing the boundaries of the modern art of her time.

Reference image from here. This painting is currently at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas Austin.

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