The Two Fridas – Kahlo’s Suffering and Strength on Canvas
Frida Kahlo lived in a society where the woman’s ambition was to be a devoted wife and mother. The events that she encountered along her life prevented the artist from achieving such goals. Physical suffering, caused by an accident in her youth, which led to many spinal operations, was reflected in her paintings. Her weakened column detained her from becoming a mother, and in 1939 her husband Diego Rivera decided not to stand next to his “dove”. This was a turning point in Frida’s life, a moment when the suffering caught an even greater proportion, becoming a crucial theme in her paintings. It is also the time when she started making the monumental paintings, which will define her as an artist. The strong Kahlo in the “The Two Fridas” portrait is the woman she became when she realized that her society’s traditions and cultural expectations were unrealistic for her.
In mid-October 1939, the emblematic couple of Mexico, applied for divorce by mutual consent to the Court of Coyoacan. However, the decision to divorce was taken by Diego. He confesses in his autobiography that he couldn’t sit next to Frida in order not to harm her anymore. “I guard her from future trouble. I’ve decided to break up with her. I just wanted to be free, so I could go to the women to whom my desire pushed me.” However, he admits in his autobiography that his love for Frida did not diminish. He hoped to cut off the umbilical cord, rather than break the deep feelings he had for her.
The effect of this decision was the deep loneness that Frida felt, the loss of reference, the breaking ties with her friends and the isolation. All this suffering is shown in a series of images, in which the artist sees herself as a martyr. Her only comfort is the mirror image perceived by the artist as a long known friend that stands beside her in good but mostly in bad moments.
Her own shadow joined her in the painting “The Two Fridas.” The characters are placed on a bench with a straight torso, fixed eyes, as if after the suffering she endured, nothing can knock her down as long as she has herself beside.
In this painting, she tries to return to her origins. “The two Fridas” appear to hold hands, one in a European-clothed, the other as a Mexican. The Tehuana dress refers to her relationship with Diego, that was cut by divorce, represented in the painting by the scissors. A bloody vein connects the suffering heart to the intact one.
The courageous Frida joins hands with the suffering Frida, as if hoping to relieve her pain. Both have a vision that gives the viewer the impression of an agreement with herself, having triumphed over pain by closing Diego in a small medallion that she holds between her fingers.
The painting’s origin is explained by the artist herself in her memoirs. Frida tells how as a child she lived with intensity an imaginary friendship with a girl. She used to make steam on the window glass in her room. With her finger, she drew a door. Through this door, she entered in a dream: “I speedily descend inside the Earth, where my imaginary friend expected me. I didn’t keep in mind any face, any color to remind me of her. But I know she was happy – she laughed a lot.”
Maybe that’s why the face of her imaginary friend turned into the artist’s face, in order to help her pass easily over the sufferings of life. “I used to follow her movements while she was dancing and told her all my secret problems.” Isolating herself from friends, after the divorce, Frida felt the need for a reliable person whom she could tell her drama. After all, what other person may be more reliable than yourself? Who else can keep your secrets so well? Who knows better the depths of your soul in order to give you the best advice, than yourself? “How much time have I spent with her? I do not know. A second or thousands of years… I was happy. I wiped the window with my hand, and she disappeared”, said Frida. The story ends when the young girl ran to the back courtyard with the secret of her imaginary friend. She hid herself at the root of a large cedar and started shouting and laughing. After 34 years of this memory, Frida paints the story of her magical friendship while being in a time of suffering, in order to bring happiness back.
“The Two Fridas” was exhibited in 1940 at the grand “International Exhibition of Surrealism” in Mexican Art Gallery of Ines Amor. Later, the painting appeared in the “Twenty centuries of Mexican art” retrospective organized by the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico.