Frida Kahlo: Trauma, Abjection, and Affect

Artworks: The Broken Column

Painted in 1944, The Broken Column could be one of the most affective pieces depicting pain and trauma. During this period, Kahlo had to wear a steel corset because of her constant back pain. In the painting, the corset seems to be the only thing holding her together and upright since the broken column – in place of her damaged spine – is fractured and broken in several places. The background portrays a vast land which symbolises loneliness and the nails embedded in her skin, on her face and body increase the affective appeal of pain.

As I look at the painting, I can feel her, Kahlo. There is a difference between isolation and solitude. Being alone, secluded, feels helpless like being in a room full of people that you have known all your life and feeling invisible. Unlike Memory, though I am certain she never meant to, Kahlo’s eyes in The Broken Column reveal utter sadness. Her face is supposed to show a detached expression, but her eyes make me cringe. Kahlo looks like what I assume those with anaesthesia awareness feel – paralysed but able to feel everything, the nails piercing her entire body, a suture ripped through the length of it and her spine fracturing periodically under the pressure of the weight of her body. Again the feeling of claustrophobia overwhelms me, assumingly the mirror neurons in my brain are the cause of my uneasiness and I wonder to myself, what I would do under the same circumstances – I have to force myself to stop thinking of the torture, the feeling of suffering. I feel desiccated and my awareness of my surroundings peak. When I see how Kahlo represents herself as an earthquake, or some kind of natural force, ripping through the earth, I feel a sudden realisation at the turmoil nature has caused in the world recently. The association makes me feel the loss and heartbreak of children, parents and siblings who will never be found, cursed without closure and the digging feeling of not knowing.

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