Frida Kahlo: Trauma, Abjection, and Affect

Artworks: The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Myself, Diego and Señor Xólotl

Frida frequently adopts a maternal role towards her husband, Diego, stating that: “… I – always want most of all to hold him in their arms like a new-born baby” (Kettenman 1992:76). In The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Myself, Diego and Señor Xólotl (1949), Frida is inspired by ancient Mexican mythology, which includes binaries of day and night which permeate each other, the sun and the moon, as well as the earth goddess Cihuacoatl who gives birth to all flora whose breast drips life-giving milk. Kahlo is holding her husband in her arms like a baby. Their love is protected by Señor Xólotl – their dog – who represents Xólotl, a being in a form of a dog that guards the realm of the dead, thus life (Cihuacoatl) and death (Xólotl) are incorporated into Kahlo’s depiction of the world.

As I look at the painting, I can feel her, Kahlo. Again, prominent in her painting are the sun and the moon, maternal this time. One of the most beautiful paintings of Kahlo’s depicts such tragedy in certain aspects. The painting as a whole clearly represents maternity, mother earth lactating with her and Kahlo cradling the artist and Diego respectively. One of the worst things that can happen to a woman is the loss of a child. Kahlo’s infertility, miscarriages and an emergency abortion are tragic, it makes me feel morbidly out of control, and out of my body to see her being cradled by the earth, and her cradling a grown man who she equates to a deity. Without being able to hold or nurse her own child, and knowing that she never would, brings a deep feeling of frustration, anger and frantic worry, I feel so vulnerable. As water fills my eyes I see beauty in her love for Diego as well as the unity of the binaries in the painting. All things, no matter how dissimilar, complement each other and cannot exist without the other, it makes me shiver. The vast enormity of each component inspires and overwhelms me. I see and feel so much love and comfort in these anthropomorphic images of the universe, the earth, and deities, even in the simple representations of human beings. These reactions – my embodied perception, the way her paintings affect me – involve precisely these things: trauma, abjection, and affect.

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