The Two Fridas by Frida Kahlo (1939)

On the 17th of September 1925, at just 18, Frida Kahlo found herself immobilized in hospital. She had been placed in a cast in order to secure the many injuries and fractures she received in a traumatic bus accident. Frida, forced to remain still for three months, discoverers painting. Bound to her bed for days on end, her parents formed a structure around her bed, placing a mirror as her roof. In this way, she became her own subject. This of course, gives great enlightenment as to why of her approximately one hundred and forty paintings, fifty-five of them are auto portraits. Here, we look at one of the most famous renditions of herself – The Two Fridas.

In her self-portraiture, Kahlo often examined a dialectic vision of the self, contemplating the disparities and differences found within an individual. Naturally, this deep personal reflection often led Kahlo to painting subject matter that was profoundly private. The Two Fridas perfectly highlights this movingly personal self-assessment, and the notion of the split self.

Painted during her divorce with the famous muralist Diego Rivera, the Frida on the right is the woman whom Rivera loved. Dressed in a simple and traditional violet Mexican gown, with her heart atop her dress, the image is gentle. Notice also what she holds in her hands – a small, egg-shaped portrait of Rivera. This portrait is, through Kahlo’s vein, connected to her heart. This subtle but obvious intertwinement  of the pair suggests Kahlo’s belief in the deep familial, even biological bond between Frida and her husband (remember, the portrait of Rivera is egg-shaped). As the artist herself wrote to Rivera, “My blood is the miracle that travels in the veins of the air from my heart to yours.”

However, the Frida Kahlo on the left side is very different – this is the Frida that Rivera no longer loves, when her blood has long lost its miraculous quality. In her garish European dress, she is far removed from her Mexican heritage. Rather than gentility, this is an image of death and hostility – this Frida is clearly bleeding to death. Her heart has been ripped open through her torn dress, while the veins that once transported that strong emotional bond between husband and wife have been brutally severed with surgical scissors still at hand. Such pain set against peaceful happiness makes the disposition of the two Frida’s entirely contradictory – in theory, isolating them from each other.

Yet, although polarised, the two Frida’s are intimately connected. They are bound not only by their hands, but also by the blood that travels in the vein between them. Years after her accident and troubled health as a child, Frida confessed that through the agony, trauma, and incessant loneliness of her youth, she had become extremely close to an imaginary friend to whom she would tell all her secrets and pain – an imaginary friend, who, according to the artist, knew everything about her. It is not excessive to suppose, in light of this work, that Frida created a friend who was in fact another vision of herself. As the two women sit connected by flesh and blood, although dialectic, their identical faces appear to perfectly understand the happiness and pain of the other.

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