Frida Kahlo, “Henry Ford Hospital,” 1932. Image from Fickr
By Morgan Elyse Christensen
There seems to be some debate in the webiverse over whether or not Frida Kahlo should really be the poster-child for art and feminism. Those who believe Kahlo establishes a harmonious relationship with the feminist movement tend to cling to her defiance of gender norms such as her lax attitude in regards to facial hair, her bi-sexuality, and the fact that her art was collected in the early 20th century when hardly any other women were blazing the same trail (that’s kind of the big one). Those who oppose the view that Frida brings a positive note to feminism, take note of the fact that she remained in an unhealthy relationship with her misogynist husband/ex-husband/husband-again, Diego Rivera, and that her paintings were only painted for and because of him.
Here’s what I think: It’s totally unfair for anyone but Frida Kahlo to assess her feminist credibility – especially since she’s been unable to defend herself since 1954. So when people say “Frida Kahlo; No Feminist” or “Frida Kahlo: Best Feminist Ever”, how can they really know? Even if said people knew her personally, they’d know only what Kahlo would have allowed them to see her do and hear her say, not how she truly felt on the inside and what she was really thinking; that’s what the canvas was for – Frida’s vibrant diary. But you still can’t judge her as a person – only her art – and art is subjective.
We can never really know what was going through Kahlo’s mind when she painted them, we can only try interpreting the meanings behind works such as “Diego in My Thoughts”, “Without Hope”, or “Henry Ford Hospital”, for each person it will be different. For me, and for many feminists, Frida’s work encapsulates several of the same ideas on to which we’re still trying to turn the general population like how women feel trapped, forced to fulfill societal conventions, and how the female reproductive system is not some mysterious, taboo thing that should be hidden away.
There’s no doubt that Frida Kahlo wasn’t afraid to discuss subjects in her paintings that cause the viewer to think very deeply. Thought provoking art, painted by a female, famous in a time when women typically weren’t for their art; I say let the idolization of Frida continue…for centuries. Plus, I think her work is amazing, period!
The Gellman Collection which contains works by Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and several other remarkable Mexican artists will remain on display at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art through August 18th. Go see it for yourself and get your own impression of what Frida means to the art world and to feminism.