“Self-portrait on the Border between Mexico and the United States”

Frida Kahlo’s “Self-portrait on the Border between Mexico and the United States” sets an interpretation of the difference between the America and Mexico through the use of many colors that represent different feelings about both countries. All the objects scattered around the painting characterize traditional and modern symbols that Frida Kahlo uses to differentiate between Mexican and American culture. With the help of sources such as her personal diary, the meanings behind the use of color and texture in the image help us to understand each side of the painting and the reason behind the use of certain objects.

An analysis in Chicana and Chicano Space: A Thematic, Inquiry-Based Art Education Resource of Frida Kahlo’s border painting demonstrates the different sensory elements used to show a contrast between Mexican and American traditions. According to the article “Frida used fine brushstrokes to illustrate gradual changes in value (light and dark)”, which is shown in the slight change of color and texture of the ground on the Mexican side, which seems to contain soil with rocks and pebbles, to the American side that is barren, smooth and inorganic. This contrast shows the differences the two nations have; one is more in touch with the earth, while the other is enveloped in its modern, industrialized bubble.

Besides the change in the ground’s colour, Kahlo also uses symbolic objects like plants and megaphones to illustrate the relationship between one nation’s connection to the Earth and another’s union to machines. According to the analysis of the painting by Diana Vazquez the bright colours used on the objects on the left side like flowers, wild plants and corn “represent the natural, colourful, and beautiful spirit of the Mexican country”, which indeed is very representative of typical Mexican art that is usually very brightly coloured. The wide range of “happy” colors on the left side shows how much Kahlo admires her native country, while the bland grays and browns on the American side portray a sad and depressing mood.

Apart from the change in colour from left to right, there also seems to be a variation in texture. The symbol of earth illustrated by plants and vegetation on the Mexican side of the painting has more variation and texture than the other side. Apart from the few straight lines, the stone pyramid in the background contains the rest of the figures, that have really complex shapes that the symmetrical American side does not have. For example the lighter fertility figure is shaped like a human and contains more depth than the symmetrical, smooth, buildings that are on the right of the painting. The megaphone and other two shapes, in the front carry a continual pattern of roundness that none of the objects on the left side contain.

Frida Kahlo’s traditional Mexican oil painting is called a retablo because it is painted on metal. This is a great example of how two nations can be so culturally and economically different than each other. These differences are not just highlighted by the obvious objects, like the contrast between industrial buildings and the earthy elements, but also by Kahlo’s changes in colour pallets and texture throughout the painting.

Frida Kahlo’s “Self-portrait on the Border between Mexico and the United States” shows the differences between Mexico and the United States reflecting her patriotic spirit.  The sun’s mouth is bleeding because of three dripping red lines coming from the sun’s mouth like blood. This may show Frida’s pain as a result of the misery and death in her county.  Next to the sun, the moon is in another cloud with a similar sad representation.  Between them, another red line, like a ray or something remembering the terrible situation in Mexico.  Under these elements and the sky, an antique Mayan or Aztecan ruin symbolizes the ancestry of the Mexican people.  The skull relevant; it signifies war, assassination, and the pain suffered by the Mexican nation.  Also, the rocks, ancient sculptures, and religious objects characterize the traditions of Frida’s ancestors.  Lastly, typical flowers, wild plants, and some corn are on the floor. Of course, they represent the natural, colourful, and beautiful spirit of the Mexican country.  In contrast, on the right, Frida painted the United States with other components.  For example the sky is covered by smoke that is enveloping the American flag.  Therefore it corresponds to the pollution caused by the industrialization of the country.  There are skyscrapers that characterize the development, luxury, and advantages of the U.S.  The industrial technology is also denoted with things such as a megaphone, speaker, and a fan. Finally, in my opinion, the main part of this picture is a self-portrait of Frida Kahlo on the border of these two structures.  She is holding a Mexican flag, dressed in a typical dress whilst her face observes the Mexican side.  In fact, Frida expresses her love for her country in a firm and courageous attitude.  In summary all these elements in her picture show us the bigger, greater, and more valiant position of Frida Kahlo defending her country against the United States.

This image shows the politics between the American’s and Mexican’s with conflicting believes/views as I have explained above, but how does this relate to the public sphere?

I personally think that Kahlo’s work does enters the public sphere (in some ways) as firstly it is clearly in the Public Sphere because her art is famous (became famous after her death), for example her portraits that can be purchased or seen in such places like museums by the public. (this is how it links to the public sphere on a very basic level). I also think through this, she let her private life become very much public through the messages behind her portraits.

Betterton makes a highly politicised point in Colonising Kahlo: Frida Kahlo and the transcultural encounter claiming that the female body is not merelyan inanimate ‘object’, and cannot be regarded as such, she highlights the discourse that neutralises the particularity of subjective experience the reality of power dynamics played out both in the production and in the consumption of an artwork. The nude is a site of desire and therefore little attention was paid to an investigation into the specificity of female embodied knowledge and experience. The ideology of womanhood, as it has been broadly constructed within the lived worlds of  patriarchy, has censored and delineated the acceptable parameters of articulation emanating from the feminine sphere. Also Kahlo strips away the comfort of the feminine sphere, anarchically painting what had never  been visible before:—the object, the secret, the previously unspeakable: the bloodied act of childbirth, an aborted foetus in a jar, a woman in the act of suicide, an adult-faced baby Frida being breastfed. Her self-portraits and paintings do not present woman as an object defined in relation to someone else, a Lacanian object a —daughter, sister, mother, wife—for although she painted herself in all of these identities, they did not define her.


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