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2 / Dreams and Visions

The Broken Column
The Broken Column
Artist / Origin Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954)
Date 1944
Material Oil on masonite
Medium: Painting
Dimensions H: 15 11/16 in. (39.8 cm), W: 12 1/16 in. (30.6 cm)
Location Collection Museo Dolores Olmedo, Xochimilco, Mexico City, Mexico
Credit © 2009 Banco de México Diego Rivera-Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/Courtesy of Schalkwijk/Art Resource, NY

expert perspective

Ilan StavansProfessor of Latin American and Latino Culture, Amherst College

The Broken Column

» Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907–1954)

expert perspective

Ilan Stavans Ilan Stavans Professor of Latin American and Latino Culture, Amherst College

She was handicapped from an early age as a result of a bus accident in which she was involved. She had to undergo a series of operations. Pain, suffering, the decimation of her body is at the very heart of what her paintings are all about. And on her forehead, she does what Posada does, always either painting little Diegos—that is the obsession that she has with him—or painting little calaveras, or presenting herself in a bed the way you would see in Mexican art the suffering of a child or of a wife that is given to the saints for them to help.

I can’t think of an artist that is more connected with a kind of religious fervor in iconography that is popular in Mexico than Frida Kahlo in that sense. The suffering really in many ways connected with European art, but also intersecting with what Latin American, Mexican art, in particular are about—the concept of death, kind of moving into different directions.

I am very attracted to the art of Frida Kahlo not only for what it says and the importance that it has, but also because it is an invitation to look at Mexico, and by connection to Latin America, from a female perspective. Most of the art that one sees that represents this so-called Mexican collective soul has been produced for better or worse by male artists. Posada, Diego Rivera, Siqueiros, many of the muralists were men and were looking at the world through the eyes of men. Frida Kahlo is a companion of Diego Rivera, but sees the world completely different than Diego Rivera. She sees it from the point of view of a woman, and she sees it from the point of view of the daughter of an immigrant from Europe—her father was a photographer—and as such, as a person from Mexico that can also be detached from Mexico, looking at it from the outside.

Her experience, I would say, is the experience of allowing the forces of Mexican culture to infiltrate her, or be present inside her, but there’s an existential view of life that is very European, that is very connected with martyrdom, with suffering in order to achieve something with the cleansing of the body. There are images of Frida lying in bed, there are images of Frida where her body is paralyzed by all sorts of technical medical devices, her leg, her chest, where her heart is pouring out. There are images of Frida where she is falling down from a skyscraper. And that sense of vulnerability of the female body that becomes a receptacle, so to speak, or a recipient of the suffering is Mexican, but it’s also European. And I think that in many ways that is the reason why she is so popular not only at home, but abroad. She shows you a part of the so-called ‘primitive’ of what the Surrealists liked to understand as the barbaric of the Latin American art, but she also has a channel of communication with European art that is very strong and particularly with the female body and the female aspect of looking at the world and looking at death as dependent on men, as trapped in your body, and yet perceiving that through your body you can connect with the world entire, so to speak.” 

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