My Birth, 1932, (oil on copper, 12 x 14", Collection of Madonna) seen on the left, was created while Frida was living in Detroit. As previously mentioned in my last post, it's a shocking image of birth/death that Frida painted in a particularly painful period of her life. Yet, it is not just an outpouring of pain. Instead, Frida always infused her paintings with symbolic elements, ultimately creating layered images that are complex.
In My Birth, we see an ominous image of a dead woman giving birth in a bedroom, but it's a room filled with two significant Catholic images: the Virgin of Sorrows painting hanging above the bed and the empty scroll in the foreground at the foot of the bed. The Virgin of Sorrows weeps for the loss of her son and by extension the woman on the bed and her child. The scroll in the foreground refers to retablos, small paintings made on metal that depict a scene showing someone who survived an accident or illness due to the divine intervention of Christ or Mary. A family member would request a local artisan to make a retablo. In the scroll, the artist would write out a "thank you" note to Christ or Mary for saving the family's loved one. In Frida's painting, the scroll is blank. Perhaps this indicates that there is nothing to be thankful for. It's not clear in My Birth if the child is dead or alive, but the empty scroll indicates that she's dead.
The Two Fridas, 1939, (oil on canvas, 67 11/16 x 16 11/16", Collection Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City) was created seven years after My Birth. It was painted in Mexico shortly after Frida returned from Paris where her paintings were included in an exhibition of Mexican art curated by Andre Breton, the leader of Surrealism. Breton thought Frida's paintings were surrealist by nature. He loved them precisely because they captured surreality without attempting to do so. Frida never called herself a Surrealist. By 1939, she was familiar with this movement, but she didn't attempt to create works of art based upon Sigmund Freud's theories of the unconscious. Instead, she looked within and to her own culture for inspiration.
It's easy to understand why Breton loved Frida's paintings. Not only do they have a surreal look, but a psychological depth. In The Two Fridas, we see a double self-portrait; both figures sit on a bench holding hands with a cloud-filled sky behind them. They look directly out at us with an unwavering stare that we can't turn away from. The Frida on the right wears a style of dress that the women from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec made famous in Mexico after the revolution (1910-20). Such indigenous clothing symbolized a new pride in Mexico's pre-Columbian roots. The Frida on the left wears a Victorian style wedding dress, one that was popular in Mexico during colonial rule. While this Frida holds onto clamps to try and stop the flow of blood, the other Frida holds a picture of her husband, Diego Rivera. What do you think Frida is conveying about her dual nature? And, can you see any similar themes or ideas in both My Birth and The Two Fridas?
© Celia S. Stahr 2015