Frida Kahlo: Trauma, Abjection, and Affect

Artworks: Memory

Frida Kahlo presents her emotional pain as physical pain and when her husband had an affair with her sister, Christina, she expressed her anguish through pictorial symbolism in Memory (1937). Here, she painted herself with no hands – which symbolises helplessness and despair – and a void in her chest where her heart should be. On the floor at her feet lies her enlarged heart symbolic of the intensity of her pain and she is standing with one foot on the ground and the other in the sea. Standing with one foot on the ground and the other in the sea, Kahlo dips her toes in the water so to speak, testing the waters and trying to figure out if she should do something new, go to a new path, start a new story without Diego. It could signify change. Although, to have sea legs means that you are use to something, Diego’s affairs could be the root of this explanation. An extension of this symbolism could suggest a cold foot: while she feels it could be time for a change, her hesitance makes her afraid.

As I look at the painting, I can feel her, Kahlo. I can feel her misery. In her face and in mine: resent. When I see her tears my reaction feels somewhat abandoned. Her face has a blank expression; a feeling of emptiness resides over me except for the warm sensation of tears flooding my face whose only cause is a bodily response, uncontrolled by my conscious. I should be feeling sadness, but all I feel is contempt, a hateful lust for revenge? No, not revenge, for escape. I feel claustrophobic, like I cannot escape the laughter and artificial gazes of the cupids mockingly swinging, using my heartless chest as a pivot. Again the heartbreak emerges but not in the sad and pitiful way, rather in distress and in agony, as if someone had carelessly ripped out my heart.

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