Frida Kahlo: Trauma, Abjection, and Affect

Abjection: Frida Kahlo and American Horror Story

This path explains how the abject image portrayed in some of Kahlo’s paintings, as well as using herself as an image, can be recognised in the characters, architecture and even themes of American Horror Story. In effect: hypothesising that Frida Kahlo and her paintings implicitly (or perhaps subliminally) influenced the creators of American Horror Story, and used her imagery as the foundation of their art.

The screenshots provided were captured from an interactive-documentary, created by the author, of exactly the above stated idea.

Some of Kahlo’s paintings appear so explicitly violent or ghastly; it makes it difficult to look at for long periods of time, but this is also what intrigues the audience. Her graphic presentation of broken bodies and medical discourse adhere to Kristeva’s notion of abjection in that the body adopts a liminal state binding and confounding the: “…inside and outside, pleasure and pain, cleanliness and filth, life and death”. According to Alonso, Kahlo creates her art according to what she understands as the limit because she is pushed to the limit and is challenged, for instance after her accident she painted in a way that violated how representation is understood as appropriate. Kahlo presents the spillage and overflowing of waste and fluids in the hopes of eradicating her soul of experiences in her life; in this way visual imagery evokes the trauma of her existence.

The boundaries are blurred between the corpse and the living being which is a condition of abjection where it is impossible to maintain balance and therefore creates a site for desire and danger. This, in turn, creates tension gained by a lack of boundaries, for instance language cannot convey an abjection the way that Kahlo and AHS’s imagery does, forcing the viewer’s eye to break away from the display of suffering and terror. One of many examples is presented in Without Hope where food loathing encourages nausea felt by Kahlo at the time and by the affected viewers. The disgusting food, animals and skulls are suspended above her by the wooden structure used to hold her canvasses for painting while she was bedridden. Her arms seem held down underneath her, leaving the viewer feeling uneasy, anxious, helpless, scared and claustrophobic.

Kahlo and the creators of AHS’s recreation of the abject shows a display of filth, defilement and the disruption of the consistency of the self. The internal organs depicted in Kahlo’s work evoke repulsion and disgust; this display of her anatomy allows the viewer to experience abjection which is perceived as a threat and is therefore rejected. Bodily fluids and blood stain and contrast the white veils normally used to cover a body part which creates a sadistic impression; this grotesque representation, according to Alonso, can be read as a: “… transgression of a prohibition”.
According to René Girard, violence – as infectious – is a necessary condition to cure a community, for instance when viewers are confronted with the horrendous events depicted in an artwork or film, they realise that their own life is not as unfortunate as what they once thought. In this way: Kahlo, the creators of AHS, and the viewer employs the Aristotelian theory of cleansing the body and soul by way of filth. Kahlo’s body and the visual abject she portrays is tragic and has a dramatic impact on the viewer; they are affected in the same way Kahlo was affected, in that the viewer embodies Kahlo’s trauma.

Kahlo’s body is a: “metaphor for the totality of her life”. According to Alonso, the body’s mission is to project hostile emotions towards the audience; in the same sense American Horror Story’s depiction of bodies best expresses torment, where blood is the greatest articulation of violence on the body. AHS seems to draw pleasure from the audience in a masochistic way. For instance, blood portrays disaster on the one hand, and on the other signifies purification in the sense that, upon contemplation, the viewer: “releases contained emotions that purge his or her consciousness”. The reflection of the water in Kahlo’s What the Water Gave Me and the imagery in AHS is life and death, happiness and sadness, comfort and pain, past and present. According to Friis:

"The uneasy sensation of direct address and the tensions between public and private and between animus and anima lend their work the unique ability to make us feel like it is about us, while insisting, quite forcefully, that it is not:"


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